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Mourners Pay Tribute to President George HW Bush at US Capitol

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Former Sen. Bob Dole salutes the flag-draped casket containing the remains of former President George H.W. Bush as he lies in state at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Dec. 4, 2018.

Streams of mourners filed past the flag-draped casket of former U.S. President George H.W. Bush in the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday, a day ahead of the state funeral for the country's 41st president.

Visitors included ordinary Americans, people who served under Bush in his various jobs, as well as past and present directors of the CIA. Among them was former Senate majority leader and presidential candidate Bob Dole, who was brought to the Capitol Rotunda in a wheelchair. An aide helped him stand up and once he was steady, the 95-year-old saluted his fellow World War II veteran.

"Just incredible. Thank you Senator Dole," Jeb Bush, the late president's son, posted on Twitter.

IN PHOTOS: Washington Remembers George H.W. Bush

U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump privately offered their condolences to Bush's son, former President George W. Bush, the country's 43rd president, former first lady Laura Bush and other Bush family members at Blair House, the presidential guest house across the street from the White House. Before that meeting, the first lady escorted Laura Bush on a tour of the holiday decorations at the White House.

Trump and his wife joined mourners Monday night at the Capitol Rotunda. They paused steps from Bush's casket for a minute, with Trump saluting and Melania Trump placing her hand over her heart, before they quietly walked away.

Trump has often aimed political taunts at the Bush family, long a symbol of the traditional, more moderate wing of the U.S. Republican party that often is at odds with Trump's populist supporters. The elder Bush never warmed to Trump and voted for Trump's 2016 challenger, Democrat Hillary Clinton.

But Trump wrote members of Congress to hail him as a man who "led a life that exemplified what is truly great about America. President Bush worked selflessly throughout his long life to bring about a world of justice and lasting peace."

Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., kneels alongside his daughter Cecelia near the flag-draped casket of former President George H.W. Bush as he lies in state in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, Dec. 4, 2018.
Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., kneels alongside his daughter Cecelia near the flag-draped casket of former President George H.W. Bush as he lies in state in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, Dec. 4, 2018.

Before the public started walking past Bush's casket, U.S. political dignitaries praised him as an American hero in World War II, a statesman, a world leader and, perhaps most of all, as a decent man full of grace. Bush died last week at the age of 94 at his home in Texas after years of failing health.

Vice President Mike Pence said "President Bush was a great leader who made a great difference in the life of this nation. But he was also just a good man, who was devoted to his wife, his family and his friends." Pence said there was a kindness about Bush "that was evident to everyone who ever met him."

(L-R) U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, former President George W. Bush and former first lady Laura Bush watch as the casket of former President George H.W. Bush arrives to lie in state in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda in Washington, U.S., Dec. 3, 2018.
(L-R) U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, former President George W. Bush and former first lady Laura Bush watch as the casket of former President George H.W. Bush arrives to lie in state in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda in Washington, U.S., Dec. 3, 2018.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said America stands with the Bush family "in mourning but also in gratitude. Gratitude for lives well-lived and duties thoroughly fulfilled."

House Speaker Paul Ryan said "here lies a great man, a gentle soul. ... His legacy is grace perfected."

The public viewing of Bush's casket extends until early Wednesday when the casket will be transported to Washington National Cathedral for the state funeral.

The Episcopal service will include four eulogies, from George W. Bush, former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, former U.S. Senator Alan Simpson and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Evan Meacham, who wrote a biography of Bush. The Trumps are attending the funeral but are not expected to speak.

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Trump has designated Wednesday as a national day of mourning in Bush's honor. The New York Stock Exchange will be closed, as are most government offices.

​Political analyst Larry Sabato at the University of Virginia said Bush's stature among the country's 45 presidents has grown in the quarter century since he left office.

"It's pretty obvious as people look back, and as people are recollecting the Bush presidency, it looks a heck of a lot better than it did at the end of it," Sabato told VOA. "Bush, of course, was defeated for re-election, and most people at the time considered him a failed president" because of a recession during his time in the White House.

"But now, I think we can see in retrospect that he was actually quite successful," Sabato said, particularly in foreign affairs, as he helped shape the Western response to the demise of the Soviet Union and the reunification of Germany. He also led the U.S. to a military victory in reversing Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's takeover of Kuwait.

Moreover, Sabato said, Bush benefits from a comparison with Trump's demeanor nearly halfway through the current president's first term in the White House.

"To be honest," Sabato said, "at one point in history, it would not have been exceptional to have a president who obeyed and appreciated the norms of the American system and of the presidency, who was civil, who was kind to people and who rose above petty squabbles. But you know, things have changed, particularly in the last couple years. And the contrast between George H.W. Bush and the current president could not be more stark."

VOA's Smita Nordwall, Victor Beattie, Kenneth Schwartz and Megan Duzor contributed to this report.

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