WASHINGTON – The historic and ornate U.S. Capitol Rotunda was hosting mourners on Tuesday paying respects to the 41st U.S. president, George H.W. Bush, who died last week at the age of 94 and will be buried on Thursday in his home state of Texas.
A casket bearing Bush’s body arrived on the Capitol grounds at sunset on Monday for a ceremony led by congressional leaders who celebrated the life of the Republican president and father of the 43rd president, George W. Bush.
The public was given 36 hours to file past the elder Bush’s flag-draped coffin. Early on Wednesday, it will be transported to the Washington National Cathedral for a memorial service.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell opened a session of the Senate on Monday heralding the “daring” World War Two aviator, former head of the Central Intelligence Agency and wartime president. “Year after year, post after post, George Bush stayed the course,” McConnell said.
Bush was elected president in 1988 after serving two terms as President Ronald Reagan’s vice president.
During his four years as president, Bush used U.S. military power to end Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait, steered the United States through the end of the Cold War and condemned China’s violent reaction to pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing.
He was dogged by domestic problems, including a sluggish economy. When he ran for re-election in 1992, he was pilloried by Democrats and many Republicans for violating his famous 1988 campaign promise: “Read my lips, no new taxes.”
Democrat Bill Clinton coasted to victory, ending Bush’s presidency.
Early in his political career, Bush served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1967-1971. He lost bids in 1964 and 1970 for a U.S. Senate seat from Texas.
Bush is the 12th U.S. president to lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda. The first was Abraham Lincoln following his assassination in 1865.
On Monday, mourners lined up to enter the Capitol for the public viewing starting later that evening, including Theresa Murphy, 64, a retired New York high school history teacher.
“His character speaks most, because of his character, how he handled so many important points in our history. The Iraq war, the falling of the Berlin Wall, he wasn’t (saying) that’s all about me,” Murphy said, adding: “Can you imagine what it would look like if our president today did that?”
The federal government and some financial exchanges will be closed on Wednesday for a day of mourning.
(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Peter Cooney)