BUENOS AIRES — President Trump plans to attend the Washington funeral of former president George H.W. Bush and is designating next Wednesday a national day of mourning in honor of the 41st president, the White House said Saturday.
Despite years of deep animosity between Trump and the Bush family, who represent divergent brands of Republicanism, Trump showered praise on Bush’s legacy as a World War II veteran and lifelong public servant.
Trump’s conciliatory gestures came from Argentina, where he is attending the Group of 20 summit in Buenos Aires. He canceled a planned news conference for Saturday afternoon, tweeting that he would not field questions from journalists “out of respect for the Bush family and former President George H.W. Bush.”
Trump was notified overnight here of Bush’s passing and was planning to speak by phone with the late president’s son, former president George W. Bush, to offer condolences, according to a statement from White House press secretary Sarah Sanders.
“President George H.W. Bush led a long, successful and beautiful life,” Trump wrote Saturday morning on Twitter. “Whenever I was with him I saw his absolute joy for life and true pride in his family. His accomplishments were great from beginning to end. He was a truly wonderful man and will be missed by all!”
President Trump and first lady Melania Trump will attend George H.W. Bush’s funeral at Washington National Cathedral, Sanders said. “A state funeral is being arranged with all of the accompanying support and honors,” she said in a statement.
Trump did not attend the last major funeral in Washington, that of former senator John McCain of Arizona. The president had long feuded with McCain, and the McCain family made clear he was not welcome at the services, which were attended by former presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
McCain’s memorial services — which culminated with a funeral at Washington’s Washington National Cathedral attended by heads of state, military brass and other elites — amounted to an extraordinary repudiation of Trump’s presidency and a melancholy last hurrah for all that had been lost in the Trump era.
It was unclear whether the funeral of Bush — who as a genteel, New England-bred patrician was more restrained in his criticism of Trump than the outspoken McCain — would carry the same tone, especially considering Trump will be in attendance.
Trump also did not attend the funeral of former first lady Barbara Bush. Melania Trump did attend that service in Houston, where she posed for a photograph along with George H.W. Bush, Obama, former first lady Michelle Obama, George W. Bush, former first lady Laura Bush, Clinton and former first lady Hillary Clinton.
Trump’s words of admiration for George H.W. Bush cap more than three years of hostility between the current president and the Bush family. During the 2016 Republican presidential primaries, Trump mercilessly mocked one of Bush’s sons, Jeb Bush, as “low energy,” and attacked the policies of another of his sons, George W. Bush. Trump repeatedly called the Iraq War one of America’s greatest foreign policy blunders.
Of course, Trump prevailed over the forces marshaled by the Bushes, and by the general election, lifelong Republican George H.W. Bush voted not for his party’s nominee but for the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton.
In a statement issued early Saturday by the White House, Trump celebrated Bush’s achievements in public service — from his time as a Navy pilot in World War II to his tours as a congressman from Texas, envoy to China and director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and his eight years as vice president and four as president.
“Through his essential authenticity, disarming wit, and unwavering commitment to faith, family, and country, President Bush inspired generations of his fellow Americans to public service — to be, in his words, ‘a thousand points of light’ illuminating the greatness, hope, and opportunity of America to the world,” Trump wrote.
That was a departure from Trump’s comments at a Montana rally this past summer, where he mocked the “thousand points of light” phrase that Bush had famously used to describe the volunteer spirit of Americans.
“You know all of the rhetoric: ‘Thousands points of light,’” Trump asked the Montana crowd. “What the hell was that? What does that mean? I know one thing: ‘Make America Great Again’ we understand. ‘Putting America First’ we understand. ‘Thousand points of light?’ I never got that one. What the hell is that? Has anyone figured that out? It was put out by a Republican.”
Trump’s mockery drew condemnation from the extended Bush political family. Ari Fleischer, a former White House press secretary for George W. Bush, tweeted: “This is so uncalled for. Going after a 94-year-old, former President’s promotion of volunteerism. I don’t mind potus being a fighter. I do mind him being rude.”
Bush restrained himself from entering the political fray with Trump and weighing in on the 45th president’s daily — and sometimes hourly — news cycles. But he made clear what he thought of Trump.
“I don’t like him,” Bush said in a May 2016 interview with Mark K. Updegrove in his book, “The Last Republicans.” He added that he thought Trump was driven by “a certain ego.”
“I don’t know much about him, but I know he’s a blowhard,” Bush added. “And I’m not too excited about him being a leader.”