tv The 11th Hour With Brian Williams MSNBC December 1, 2018 1:00am-2:00am PST
which plug in to extend the wifi even farther, past anything that stands in its way. ...well almost anything. leave no room behind with xfi pods. simple. easy. awesome. click or visit a retail store today. it is 1:00 in the east. we continue our coverage of the death of former president george herbert walker bush, america's 41st commander in chief. he has died at the age of 94. that word coming to us just over an hour ago. a statement released by his son, the 43rd president george w. bush. he had governed this country from 1989 to 1993, a time of momentous change.
this is an nbc news special report. >> steve kornacki here in new york for nbc news, again with the breaking news. former president george herbert walker bush has passed away at the age of 94, that word coming to us just over an hour ago, a statement released by his son, the 43rd president george w. bush. he had governed this country from 1989 to 1993, a time of
momentous change not just in this country, but in this world. a president who saw the fall of soviet commune im, the fall of the berlin ball, twall, the reunification of germany. a one-term president whose legacy in the last 25 years and the generations since his presidency as in many ways been enhanced in a way that few one-term presidents we have seen. hallie jackson, who's covering the current president in buenos aires joins us live. we have heard from president trump in the last few minutes. >> we have. in a statement from both president trump and first lady melania trump as they are here in argentina for that summit of world leaders responding to the death now of former president george h.w. bush. i'm going to read you pieces of this, president trump saying that melania and i join with a grieving nation to mourn the
loss of former president george h.w. bush who passed away last night. through his authenticity, wit and unwavering commitment to faith, family and country, president bush inspired generations of 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. president trump goes on to talk about some of the defining moments of george h.w. bush's life and legacy, talking about how he always find a way to set the bar higher. president bush guided our nation and the world to a peaceful and victorious conclusion of the cold war and as such set the stage for the decades of prosperity that have followed. through all he accomplished, he remained humble. president trump and the first lady saying along with his full life of service to this country, we will remember president bush for his devotion to his family, especially the love of his life
barbara. his example lives on and will continue to stir future americans to pursue a greater cause. our hearts ache with his loss and we send our prayers to the entire bush family as we honor the life and legacy of 41. that the response from president trump as he is here at the g 20 summit in argentina. it is roughly 3:00 local time. a little bit earlier, of course, where you are on the east coast and back home in washington. in the coming days we expect there will, of course, be services in d.c. for the former president, starting with george h.w. bush lying in state at the capitol and then a service at the national cathedral. we don't have exact timing on that at this point, but i expect that will come shortly. we are hearing too from members of congress paying their respects to the former president, who is such a key political figure to a lot of folks inside the republican establishment. world leaders perhaps reacting as they start to wake up here at the g20 this morning.
a couple of notes on the relationship between president trump and the former president. it was fraught at times. it's interesting the thousand points of light phrase is being included here, so important to president bush, but something that president trump jabbed at when he was on the campaign trail. that put him under scrutiny from former bush aides and allies who weren't quite sure why president trump was going after george h.w. bush there. former first lady barbara bush, at her funeral melania trump attended on behalf of the trump family. president trump said he would not attend, according to the white house, out of respect from the family. we are watching for more reaction and i'll bring it to you as soon as we get it. >> hallie, thank you for that. bring in now john meechum. the moment of his presidency that will define it more than any other was the decision to go to war with saddam hussein and
iraq in 1991 when saddam hussein had invaded kuwait. it was a controversial decision and he chose to go. >> he chose to go because he believed this will not stand, this aggression against kuwait. he decided from the 2nd of august 1990 through about the 5th of august that it was important in a post cold war era to attempt to establish a rule of law among nations. he saw kuwait as a victim. he saw saddam hussein as an aggressor. he and james baker successfully marshalled the world to project force around the world in order to try to attempt and, as president bush put it in a speech to congress on september 11th, 1990, that the law of nations should trump the law of the jungle.
>> thank you for joining us. again, the word coming in now. it's about 90 minutes ago that we learned that the former president of the united states george h.w. bush passed away earlier this evening at the age of 94. again, the 41st president of the united states from 1989 to 1993. for those of you watching our stations, our coverage of the death of george h.w. bush continues on msnbc. i'm steve kornacki, nbc news. continuing our coverage here on msnbc of the death of former president george herbert walker bush, the former president we learned passing away earlier in the evening at the age of 94. he was the commander in chief from 1989 to 1993, a time of seismic change across the world. general barry mccaffrey joins me now on the phone. you knew him personally, general.
your reaction, your memories? >> well, he's an utterly magnificent public servant. his entire life was really a model to be emulated. 18-year-old navy carrier pilot world war ii. i knew him both as a division commander during the gulf war. he and barbara and the senior leaders of congress came to my division before the attack started and had thanksgiving dinner with us. what an incredible impact he had on my soldiers. then he also went to ft. stewart, georgia, to visit our families while we were deployed. and then later on as colin powell's assistant, i had traveled with him on several occasions overseas, international conferences, essentially his liaison officer between the chairman and the president. again, just a model of public service, integrity, good judgment, personal courage.
>> barry mccaffrey, please stay with us. we're joined now by tom brokaw, who covered george h.w. bush. tom, you wrote the book about george h.w. bush's generation, the greatest generation. he was the final president of the united states from that generation. >> he was. and i had a hard time persuading him to participate in that book. he was always so modest about his public service. and i finally said, you know, mr. president, this is your generation and you were so representative of it. and he reluctantly agreed. and then i remember one of the most vivid moments and proudest moments of my life on the dedication of the world war ii memorial in washington, d.c., he was seated just down from me on the podium and when the remarks from the various speakers were going on, he took off a piece of cardboard and wrote on it and said, dear tom, i think i was wrong, maybe we were the
greatest generation. and then i developed a personal relationship with him through our mutual friend jim baker. he was the same in private as he was in public. he was always a modest man, worried about how others were doing. i was with him toward the conclusion of his son's decision to invade iraq and he was supportive of his son, but at the same time i know that he was very anxious about the outcome of it. he worried about what would happen. he was close to colin powell, for example, who was the secretary of state in his son's administration. you'll remember that colin powell was not included in a lot of the decision making by vice president cheney and defense secretary rumsfeld and that troubled him.
but he was always a man who has had great grace. he was a good athlete. he worry about others. his wife barbara had this impish sense of humor. from time to time she'd say something that was impolitic. george would say, oh bar, don't go there. i think both as a political figure and certainly as a friend to his generation and as a friend to people who came up to him, he was a man without peer. out there as a political figure, that he was more comfortable governing than campaigning and that that showed. do you think that's accurate? >> i think that's true. i remember he was elected to that first term and then toward the end of it the economy took a sharp downturn. and he didn't respond to it in the way that would have been useful to him, i think, in the campaign. there were a number of reasons for that, some of it had to do with people in his
administration. he liked campaigning. the advice he always got from his mother from a privileged household in new england, oh george, told talk about yourself, she would say. and that's why he as a politician, in contrast to others who occupy that position, he was reluctant to do it. his good manners were always there with him. he was ambassador to china, the director of the vee yeah cia, he was ambassador to the united nations. when he became president, he really did close a deal with the russian government that was discarding the soviet union. he was a seminal figure in so many positions in american political life. >> tom, i wonder if you could take us back to the spring of 1991 just after the successful completion of operation desert storm, the liberation of kuwait from iraqi occupation. he hit 91% approval rating.
there were patriotic celebrations in this country, parades, ticker tapes, celebrations that we really hadn't seen since world war ii that spring. >> it was kind of the last time we had that moment, any military operation. when you stop and think about it, the last unconditionally successful military operation that we had. it was over in a hurry. there was a lot of pressure on him to go all the way to baghdad. he didn't want to do that. he thought we accomplished what he set out to do, which was drive saddam hussein out of kuwait. there was one mistake made. general schwartzkopf said unfortunately aallntunately i a hussein's men to have access to helicopters and they used those helicopters to open up another war in the southern part of iraq. at that point, they had a lot of enemies.
that was probably a mistake, but it was more of a tactical than it was a strategic mistake. and he was very concerned about the spread of war in that part of the world. part of the reason his son and certainly cheney and rumsfeld wanted to go to war is they felt that they had to finish the job, so to speak. and they completely misrepresented, in fact, what was going on in iraq. there were no weapons of mass destruction. and we went into a war that is still simmering in its own way. >> it seems there's an irony there, obviously, to put it mildly, that so many of the now positive assessments of george h.w. bush's presidency are rooted in the perceived failures of his sons when it came to iraq. >> that's true. it was so often in any presidency it is very hard to
project about what the enduring advantage of a decision will be or the disadvantage of it will be. and he got caught in the downdraft of his own presidency, especially when it came to the economy. also there was a generational thing. bill clinton was unparalleled as a campaigner and he was of his generation a kind of seminal figure when it came to understanding the new tools of campaigning. he'd grown up wanting to be president of the united states, two terms as governor of arkansas. he represented his generation in so many ways. and george bush was a man of the greatest generation of a different time and a different set of values. >> tom brokaw from nbc news. the anchor of nbc news when george h.w. bush was president. thank you. >> my pleasure. he was a great man. i really got to know him as a friend. one final story about him.
i was visiting with him up at kennebunkport and he was at that point concerned about what was going on in the republican party. i'll leave some of the names out. but his wife barbara said sit over there next to george, tom, so i can take your picture together. she said i'm going to release this as the cochairs of get -- i don't say who it is we're walking about. george said, oh barbara, don't do that now. they had this wonderful relationship. by then he was in a scooter because he had parkinson's disease from the waist down. it frustrated him so much because he was such a good athlete. he couldn't move around in the same way, but the fact that he lived to be 94 and he's going to get this kind of farewell, no man deserved it more. >> all right. tom brokaw, thank you very much. >> it was my great pleasure. >> john meechum is still with us. let me bring you back in.
tom mentions for much of his life the physical strength of george h.w. bush. i remember him in 1988 running for president probably at 64, 65 years old, back then going out jogging at one point during that campaign. and of course the passing in just the last year of his wife. that relationship, barbara bush and george h.w. bush, talk a little bit about that if you would. >> they met three weeks after pearl harbor at a dance at the greenwich country club. she wore a red and green dress and he endeavored to get introduced. their first date was a day or two later. george h.w. bush, known as papi in those days and still to the family in private moments, he was worried that perhaps there might not be enough to talk about. so he borrowed the family car that had a radio in it. he found quickly that barbara
pierce did not suffer silence very easily. and as she used to say, they never had to have a car with a radio again, because she would fill whatever space there was. they were married in january of 1945, fully thinking that lieutenant junior grade george h.w. bush, as he was at that point, would go back to be part of the invasion and attack on the home islands of japan. vj day was an incredibly joyous moment for them as millions of other americans. they were married for 73 years. it was one of the great marriages. had its ups and downs, as every marriage does. we talked about the loss of robin in 1953. as you know, families that lose a child, sometimes it brings you closer and sometimes it creates rifts that are difficult to heal.
with the bushes, they were strong for each other. president bush, by his o own admission was very affected by watching robin be treated at memorial sloan kettering as it was then and would run out of the room. barbara used to say that robin must have thought he had the weakest bladder in america because he would hustle out. mrs. bush was strong during the treatment. after robin died on columbus day weekend of 1953, it was george bush's turn to be strong. and she always remembered how he would hold her sobbing in the watches of the night down in midland, texas, where they were living. they hadn't heard the word leukemia ever until they heard their daughter's diagnosis in 1953. it brought them together. they were a formidable political partnership.
as a friend of president bush's once remarked to me, that president bush didn't like saying anything bad about folks, but he didn't really mind hearing, which was a good thing because mrs. bush was pretty candid. in fact, the president would sometimes when mrs. bush was on a particular roll, he would say, bar, where do you get so damn many opinions. it was that kind of teasing relationship. george w. bush has remarked he has his daddy's eyes and his mama's mouth. i think that's a good way for folks to think about the combination of qualities that were passed onto the next generation. just in a general way, i want to say again this is america's last great soldier statesman. this is someone who understood combat, who understood the costs of military action. he was restrained in the use of power. he understood america's role in
the world. he believed that we were stronger the more widely we opened our arms. one of my favorite stories is the first time he came back to the white house after he lost in 1992 was in june of 1993 to help gerald ford and bill clinton and jimmy carter talk about nafta, which was then facing ratification largely negotiated under reagan and bush. bill clinton gets up and gives this remarkably synthetic and wonderful description of globalization and why free trade matters. and president bush got up and said we have just seen once again why he's living here and i'm not. not many politicians and almost no presidents are that self-deprecating. and one of the things we've lost tonight is a sense of humility at the highest levels. george bush, for all of his faults -- and he'd be the first to say i think we're going on a little too much here.
but for all of his faults, he embodied the idea that you could be a humble man in the biggest arena of american politics and still keep your humanity, keep your grace, keep your integrity. >> we have talked about one of the most significant moments, not just in george h.w. bush's presidency but really in modern american history. that is the 1991 gulf war. it was august of 1990 when saddam hussein's forces in iraq invaded kuwait. george h.w. bush formed an international coalition, amassed troops, set a deadline for hussein to withdraw his forces or to face war. got approval from congress. then when that deadline passed and saddam hussein hadn't budged and george h.w. bush declared war. this was that moment. >> now the 28 countries with forces in the gulf area have
exhausted all reasonable efforts to reach a peaceful resolution v no choice but to drive saddam from kuwait by force. >> general barry mccaffrey is still with us. general, just before george h.w. bush made that statement on national television in january 1991, there had been predictions that if the united states did launch that war, it would turn into a vietnam in the desert. it had been basically 15 years since the end of vietnam. there were terrible memories of that that were wide in this country. and it turned out that that war lasted far shorter than almost anybody had predicted. the ground war lasted i think less than 100 hours. far fewer casualties. when it was over, george h.w. bush said we had kicked the vietnam syndrome once and for all. i do wonder looking back at that moment, in an indirect way, did that triumph -- did the unexpected ease of that triumph
change this country's psychology when it came to war, when it came to the idea that maybe war was a lot easier than we thought it would be? >> that the first time i've heard that question put that way. by the way, i have to backtrack and say it's been really a joy listening to tom meechum and tom brokaw with their own memories of this great man. i think he literally was. this is unusual. think of where we are now and look at president bush's life and his devotion to his family and to the country and the service. just a remarkable, gentle, kind, intelligent, mature public servant. back to the gulf war, i think one of the things that was most notable about that conflict was we had in the case of both president bush with his
intense aviation combat experience in world war ii. and by the way, he told my division at thanksgiving in saudi arabia one of his last missions flying off an aircraft carrier during world war ii was in support of the 24th infantry division, my division fighting in the philippines. all of us were just overwhelmed. i say that because it underscores he understood the consequences of war. he barely survive it himself. our chairman at the time, colin powell, had been badly wounded as a major in vietnam. a lot of combat experience, our joint commander in the gulf, norm schwartzkoff had been badly wounded in vietnam. at the very top, you had our strategic planning being done by public servants who as young men had been in combat. that changed everything. by the way, that was one of the
few wars where the media and many in congress completely misunderstood what was about to happen. just before the attack started, there were all sorts of comments, the effect of this was going to be the bloodiest day since the invasion of normandy. the people on the ground, division commanders, brigade commanders, particularly those of white house fought in vietnam -- i told secretary cheney before the attack started this war was going to be short, relatively moderate casualties. i thought my division would have 2,000 killed and wounded. we ended up with 8 killed and 38 wounded. i think it was the generation where everyone at the top understood what we were about to do. and that started with the president of the united states. >> in the gulf war in 1991 transformed the reputations, the
images of, among others, colin paul -- powell, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. polling after the war showed him one of the most popular people in america, perhaps the most popular person in america, a movement throughout the '90s to get him to run for president, ultimately becoming secretary of state under george w. bush. dick cheney, his reputation certainly increased dramatically after that. and then in 2000 he became the running mate for george w. bush, the vice president for george w. bush. with dick cheney in the george w. bush administration, you also got donald rumsfeld, his old ally and somebody who was not necessarily an ally of george w. bush. >> absolutely. the past was not prologue when it came to that. rumsfeld and george h.w. bush were young rivals in the
washington of nixon and ford. it's sort of a shakespearean rivalry. george w. bush was always very determined throughout his son's both governorship and presidency, he took pains to point out these were different eras, they were different men. it's impossible to understand george w. bush without understanding texas politics. it's impossible to understand george h.w. bush without understanding how much the political center of the country moved from new england to the sunbelt in the 20th century. the family story writ large is in many ways the story of american politics prior to 2016. my sense of -- i spend a lot of time talking to him about it through the years. president bush really did look on his son's presidency in the way that dad would as opposed to the way a former president
might. that's hard for people to get their heads around. there are a lot of conspiracy theories. there's more armchair psychology about this than near damn near anything else in modern american history, but i believe it to be true. jeb bush explained it once as saying why wouldn't someone look at it as a dad? you're watching your son in the maelstrom, there's immense pride, there's immense concern about what the son faces. president bush was very clear that he thought his son was facing after 9/11 possibly the greatest crisis since the civil war because there had been an attack on our soil. and he believed always that a president of the united states of either party deserved the deference of the people around him, that the nature of citizenship required someone to
give the president their best views, but to support them and to try to serve where that president asked. so i think you have to look at those two men in different frames because they ruled in different eras. but i do know that the immense pride, the immense emotional reaction that the president had watching his son govern in tumultuous times certainly fundamentally shaped his last decades. >> andrea mitchell is still with us as well. i was going through that list of names those reputations were transformed by the gulf war. another one
was secretary of state james a. baker iii and obviously close friend of george h.w. bush. they went way back before that. and jim baker was called in when florida was in the balance for
george w. bush against al gore in the 2000 election. that relationship between bush and jim baker, what can you tell us about that? >> that was the most extraordinary partnership, friendship. it was george bush who got jim baker into politics. they were friends in houston going all the way back. they suffered great losses. jim baker lost his first wife. and of course you've talked about robin, the child that the bushes had lost. they lost elections. jim baker lot his attempt at elected politics, but then he became the ally, the partner, the secretary of state and was
very reluctant to leave the job he loved so much secretary of state to become campaign manager again in 1992, but he did. they were trade-offs back and forth but jim baker was a really close friend.
they continued this week. jim baker had a rice baker institute commemoration. barack obama was the speaker, but it was also earlier in the day that barack obama went to visit george herbert walker bush at home, probably one of the last major visits that he had before his passing. he was failing in the last couple of days and had been. really family and friends expected almost eight months ago to barbara bush's passing. i think we all remember seeing him sorrowful and frail at that service and the love and support of his children.
i had the great opportunity recently to sit down and talk about the past and the present and current politics and policy at a private gathering, an academic gathering with jeb bush. and we talked about his eloquent eulogy for his mother. it was very much on his mind because we all knew that his father's health was failing. remember at age 90 when he took that parachute jump and when i listened to barry mccaffrey talking about him as a commander and working in the first gulf war for george bush, the commander in chief, you think of him as being the youngest naval aviator in world war ii, to think of his rescue in the pacific is just extraordinary when you think from the recollections of tom brokaw who covered him and became his friend.
what this man did in reunifying germany, which was not a self-evident decision, a brave decision which changed the map of europe forever. and all of the big decisions he took to follow up on the legacy of ronald reagan and complete the end of the cold war. i just think this was one of the most consequential single term presidencies. in fact, the sacrifice he made in terms of policy choices that led to his defeat, not just the fact that there was a three-way race with ross perot, but also the decision to raise taxes when he knew it was the right thing to do and that he was violating the signature pledge of his convention acceptance speech and that it would probably mean he would not be elected to a second term. >> we've talked so much about george w. bush's presidency, his son's presidency and what he
might have thought about that and how he approached it. but his son, george w. bush, played a role in his presidency as well. i think the famous instance there was john sununu, the embattled chief of staff. it was george w. bush the son that was called in to get him to walk the plank. >> absolutely. george w. bush was a very tough political operator in his father's first campaign and subsequently when he was president of the united states. when people talk about their disagreements, which were very private and i'm not sure fully expressed even between the two of them over the second gulf war, the iraq war, it understates how close they were in terms of their election campaigns and the political advice. w was a very big figure in 1988 in the election of president bush.
>> we have a statement coming in from former president barack obama and his wife michelle obama. george h.w. bush's life is a testament to the notion that public service is a noble, joyous calling and he did tremendous good along the journey, expanding america's promise to new immigrants and people with disabilities, reducing nuclear weapons and building a broad coalition to expel a dictator from kuwait. when democratic revolutions bloomed across eastern europe, it was his steady diplomatic hand that made possible an achievement once thought anything but. ending the cold war without firing a shot. it's a legacy of service that may never be matched even though he'd want all of us to try. again, that statement just coming in to us from former president barack obama and the former first lady michelle obama. going to bring back hallie jackson from buenos aires. she's been traveling with president trump to the g20 summit. interesting to come back to you on that note, the note that barack obama strikes in that
statement about george h.w. bush's reputation as an internationalist president, somebody who had relationships across the globe, somebody who made friends in europe, in the middle east, was able to forge that coalition, that very delicate, fragile coalition that held maybe against the odds in the runup and during the gulf war in 1991. looking at the current president and where you are right now with those world leaders and george h.w. bush, there is a contrast in approach there. >> there is. it's so different, steve. we've been seeing that on display here at this international summit with the president piecing together, as the "new york times" phrases it, a patch work of allies, snubbing some you would think would be allies, cozying up to others you would think would not be. this is what president trump has done ever since he took office.
he campaigned on blowing up some of that world order that president george h.w. bush put in place, if you will. it is a moment to think about as acover this president, steve, the relationship that president trump has had with past presidents, including 41. there have been instances where we have seen the ex presidents together. i think of that hurricane harvey relief service where there was that gathering of five ex-presidents together. president trump was not among them. there have been not been instances where we have seen president trump as part of that so-called president's club, leaning on his predecessors for advice or guidance. he has been from the moment he was inaugurated rather isolated from that group. yes, in the past they have been from different political parties, of course. but look at what andrea just talked about barack obama having visited george h.w. bush just in the last few days. there is the sense that presidents have held a special
place in american history, they have shared one of the most hallowed grounds there is, the oval office, the white house, they have lived there, they have worked there. there is a very small group of people that can say that. president trump has always been on the outskirts of that group, of that club, if you will. this will be a moment when president bush is laid to rest. we expect in the coming days he will have a service at the national cathedral in washington after having laid in state at the capitol. you will see president trump paying his respects to someone who was important to the republican establishment, to people of faith, for those in the broader service community. it is going to be a dynamic that president trump will be navigating in the next week or so. it's one that we saw him have to navigate when barbara bush, the love of george bush's life died within the past year. president trump did not attend her funeral.
not totally out of the ordinary for a sitting president not to attend, but melania trump did go to represent the white house. president trump at the time said he was not attending out of respect to the family. there are going some moments to watch in the coming days related to how president trump relates to the bush family and his predecessors in office. certainly some moments to watch as we move forward with that. >> a statement as well from former president bill clinton, who of course defeated george h.w. bush in the 1992 presidential campaign. hillary and i mourn the passing of president george h.w. bush and give thanks for his great long life of service, love and friendship. i will be forever grateful for the friendship we formed from the moment i met him as a young governor invited to his home in kennebunkport. i was struck by the kindness he showed to chelsea, by his innate
decency, his devotion to barbara and their growing brood. few americans will be able to match president bush's record of service to the united states and the joy he took every day from it. from his military service in world war ii to his work in congress, the united nations, china, the central intelligence agency, the vice presidency and the presidency where he worked to move to the post cold war toward greater unity and freedom. he never stopped serving. i saw it up close working with him on tsunami relief in asia. his remarkable leadership and great heart were always on full display. i am profoundly grateful for every minute i spent with president bush and will always hold our friendship as one of my life's greatest gifts. our thoughts and prayers are with george, jeb, neil, marvin, their entire family and the entire bush clan. again, that statements coming in to us from former president bill clinton on the passing of george h.w. bush. we still have john meechum with us. we mentioned bill clinton
defeating george h.w. bush in 1992. one of the reasons he was able to do that was that decision to go back on the read my lips, no new tax promise. he made that in the 88 campaign. he cut a deal to do it in 1990. he called it a mistake on the campaign trail in 1992. a generation later in 2014 he ended up being awarded a profile in courage award from the kennedy library in boston. it seemed as a candidate and a president he never learned how to talk about that. what is your sense? did he always think that was the right thing to do? >> he did. he actually got a fax from richard nixon during the transition in december of 1988 where nixon offers him -- which nixon did to a lot of his successors, offered a lot of advice. one was to go ahead and break the pledge and get it over with, get the deficit under control.
bush wrote back saying that he'd be dead meat if he did it that quickly. but he did signal -- actually in a conversation with michael dukakis during the transition, a man he defeated in 1988, he actually signalled that he might have to break the pledge. so he was always prepared to do it. he did it at a breakfast meeting in late june of 1990. in many ways, that was kind of the pearl harbor of the current partisan -- particularly on the conservative side, the bolt of the right and of newt gingrich. one story i think says a lot about this is a story told by vin weber, the former minnesota congressman who had run newt gingrich's campaign to get into the house leadership in 1989.
gingrich was not a bush figure, to say the least. he was a bomb thrower. bush was the guy at whom he was throwing bombs or at least the world was the target of his bombs. but bush being bush wanted to have gingrich over to say i want to work together, congratulate him on winning the leadership race. as vin told me the story, only george bush would think to invite the guy who ran the campaign as well as the guy who won within the caucus. so they're having a beer up in the residence in 1989 and both gingrich and weber can tell there's something bush wants to say but can't quite get it out. finally he says what worries you most about us? bush said i worry that sometimes
your idealism may get in the way of what i think of as sound governance. your idealism. and weber said he always appreciated that bush said idealism, he didn't say ideology, he didn't say dogma. he gave them credit for believing in what they believed in. but he knew that sound governance was more complicated than what one had to say on the campaign trail. bush had picked up a phrase in china about the empty cannons of rhetoric. he saw campaigns in many ways as a long fuselage of empty cannons of rhetoric. they got a worse deal after the republicans bolted against bush. but it really is one of the last
moments where a president self-evidently and consciously compromised his own political future for what he saw as the national interest. and i don't want to exaggerate. president bush would hate it if we exaggerated. he'd think it was bragadocious. it is simply a historical fact that he knew he would pay a steep, steep price, which he did both the republican house caucus bolting on him and bringing pat buchanan into the 1992 race. he knew he had to do it. bush knew he had to do it for the good of the country. one of the last conversations i had with him asked him what do you want us to remember about you? and he hated that kind of question. and he said we put the country first, made our share of mistakes, but we always tried to
put the country first. that's not just sentiment. that's the substance of what he did. >> it was at the end of the 1990s about five years after george h.w. bush left office that this country actually had a balanced budget and actually began running a budget surplus for a few years. you look at the boom economy of the '90s and you look at the windfall revenues produced by the tax hike probably in 1990 and the tax hike in 1993 under bill clinton, both extremely unpopular, but there was a period where this country cleaned up its books at the end of the 1990s that may seem a little bit distant right now. john mentioned the name pat buchanan, the pundit turned candidate who challenged george h.w. bush in the 1992 presidential primaries in response to george h.w. bush going back on that pledge not to
raise taxes. but the platform that buchanan ran on is in many ways one that we would recognize today as trumpism. he ran on a border wall, he ran on immigration restriction, not just illegal, but legal immigration restriction. he ran on many of the cultural themes and many of the economic nationalist themes that donald trump would embrace a generation later. george h.w. bush confronts that in 1992. >> john is absolutely right. president bush was somebody who always felt that it was important to put country first. that's what he did. he put country first. he did it and sacrificed basically a second term to do the right thing. i just had enormous respect for the man. i had the utmost personal as well as professional respect and regard and love for george h.w. bush.
just not only a great man but also a good man, a man who cared deeply about people and who was every bit as kind and gentle behind the scenes as he is in public. you remember, of course, the speech he gave where he said he'd like to see a kinder gentler nation when he accepted the nomination back in 1988. he really did make an effort to do that. even at the end of the conflict with saddam hussein, the president had almost tears in his eyes when he spoke to congress, because the whole idea was not to needlessly sacrifice human life and to lose people, even in that conflict. i loved that about him. he's somebody who he himself had experienced war as a very young men in world war ii. he talked about how his father cried as he went off to world war ii and he very nearly died,
of course. he was shot down and was dramatically rescued. i think the youngest navy pilot at the time for the u.s. but he never forgot his experience as somebody who fought in world war ii and he realized how precious life was and he wanted to do everything that he could to make sure there wasn't unnecessary loss of life in that conflict. and that's who he was personally as well as professionally. that's who george h.w. bush was, a very, very thoughtful, a very, very kind man, somebody who cared deeply about people. when he was elected to congress back in the late 1960s, from that houston district he supported fair housing. and that was a controversial move at the time, but he supported fair housing because he knew it was the right thing to do. his father, of course he had
worked with president johnson in 1964 to pass the civil rights bill and then in 65 the voting rights bill. when he was president of the united states and i was working in the white house we passed a civil rights bill as well and i worked closely with the team and the president to get that done. i enjoyed working for him. i loved his style. he was somebody who didn't believe in bragging about himself. very humble. let others talk about me but i won't talk about himself. he always took time to consider everybody in the room from the least important person to the person who might think that they were the most important. he took time to consider everybody in the room. that's what i will always appreciate about him.
i have a whole bunch of personal memories of kind things he would do and he even did for me when i was on the white house staff working for him. the country mourns and rightly so and my heart goes out to his family, to his sons and his daughter and his grandkids. i know that they are sad today because he was a good, good man. >> thank you for taking a few minutes and joining us. general barry mccaffrey is still with us. general, i wonder about the relationship between, the interactions between george bush and the military leadership in the gulf war obviously, but in general. what was that relationship like? >> you raise really an excellent point, particularly when you look at current president trump's dealings with kim jong-un one on one, no one else in the room except the interpreter, dealing with putin
one on one. i was with president bush on several foreign trips, helsinki, vienna, moscow. it always used to amuse me when i back briefed the pentagon that as a general statement -- and i was just a lieutenant general representing the chairman of the jcs general powell, but i was always in the room. so there might be five people in the room, the secretary of state on both sides, the head of government. i'd be the only uniformed figure in there. some of it was the fact that the president wanted me to have direct access to report back to general powell. but a lot of it was he liked having us around. he was very comfortable with us. both my wife and i have handwritten notes framed that we keep in the home for him thanking us for things we had
done to support the country. just a very unusual relationship in which all of us almost uniformly in the armed forces really almost worshipped the guy. your previous interviewers made the point about his gentility and his thoughtfulness and his maturity. he was a unique figure in american society. i normally refer to him in lectures as the equivalent of american nobility, because that's really the way i saw him. >> john meechum, we talked a little bit with tom brokaw earlier about some of the struggles that george h.w. bush had as a candidate, with that aspect, the stage craft that comes with being a candidate for office. the flip side, the personal touch that bush had behind the
scenes at cultivating friendships, at cultivating relationships. there was an anecdote through about a dmas -- christmas card list that ballooned to 25 to 30,000 names on it with a staff to maintain it all year. but this was a cultivator of personal relationships who could have 30,000 friends and they could all feel close to him. >> there are tonight and will be in the coming days tens of thousands of people, maybe more, who will feel as though they have lost a very close friend. that's given to very few people in life, much less in politics. his relationships were not inherently transactional. and that's what most political friendships, quote, unquote, are.
he is what franklin roosevelt once referred to as a master of the science of human relationships. he never met a stranger. i was with him once in houston and a waiter in a restaurant said, mr. president, you were going to bring me a pair of cuff links, you know the cuff links that all presidents give out. bush had forgotten, so he put his hands on his own cuff links and took them off and gave them to the man. there will be again an infinity of those stories. the country is going to get tired of hearing what an amazing man he was. but it is that kind of grace is in such vanishingly small supply today that i think the more we can be reminded of it and the more we can perhaps heed our own better angels. again, george bush was not a perfect man, but he did leave us a more perfect union and he left as a model of how to behave.
that might not have always done exactly the right thing, but he was a human being, but he was the best kind of human being even with those limitations. and i think it's a cliche, but cliches are cliches because they're true, we're not going to see his like again. >> we talked so much in the last couple of hours about how the legacy of his administration, of his one-term presidency has evolved over the last generation and how he used to talk about the idea of history looking back favorably on his tenure. a generation later as he passes from this world, is that place in history that he sought, is that secure for him? >> i think it's ever more so. i think he will be seen as someone who made courageous decisions. he did them for the national interest. he was not the best wholesale politician.
he was not the smoothest political performer. but in his very private moments, he didn't really ascribe to that. as he would sometimes -- you could almost hear him saying, well, you know i was president, so how bad could i have been at that. he talked about how he climbed the highest mountain in the world. i think when we look historically at what he did, i remember henry kissinger saying that bush had the most consequential foreign policy presidency of any president since truman. for kissinger to say that, you know it has to be true. >> it is in many ways foreign policy. the massive transformations that took place around the globe that obviously is the legacy of the bush presidency. it does seem that no matter what, no matter what we make of
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