BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — President Donald Trump declared a period of national mourning Saturday to honor former President George H.W. Bush, setting aside differences in politics and temperament to remember the iconic American.
In a statement issued hours after Bush’s death on Friday night, the president and first lady Melania Trump lauded the former president as a man of “sound judgment, common sense and unflappable leadership.” They added that Bush had “inspired generations of his fellow Americans to public service.” In a subsequent proclamation, Trump ordered American flags to be flown at half-staff for 30 days to honor Bush.
Bush, who was president from 1989 to 1993, was 94.
Trump, who upended the GOP establishment with his insurgent presidential campaign, has had a fractious relationship with the Bush family. He ran against one of Bush’s sons, Jeb Bush, in the GOP presidential primaries in 2016, and was sharply critical of the presidency of another son, George W. Bush.
The White House announced Saturday that the Trumps would attend a state funeral for the former president at Washington’s National Cathedral.
The announcement marked a reversal from earlier this year, when the president was pointedly not invited to the funeral of former first lady Barbara Bush, the family matriarch and the late president’s wife of 73 years. Melania Trump attended instead.
The Trumps were informed of Bush’s death late Friday while in Buenos Aires, Argentina, for the Group of 20 summit of rich and developing nations.
Trump was set to speak by phone Saturday with George W. Bush, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said, to “offer his condolences on behalf of himself, the first lady, and the entire country.”
In South America, Trump canceled a planned news conference, tweeting that “out of respect for the Bush Family and former President George H.W. Bush we will wait until after the funeral” to hold one.
Trump also designated Wednesday as a national day of mourning. He encouraged Americans to gather in places of worship “to pay homage” to Bush’s memory, adding, “I invite the people of the world who share our grief to join us in this solemn observance.”
The proclamation hails Bush as “one of America’s greatest points of light,” a reference to one of the former leader’s signature phrases about the impact of American civic culture.
Trump mocked the “points of light” phrase at some of his campaign rallies this year. He contrasted it with his own campaign slogan, saying “Putting America first, we understand. Thousand points of light, I never quite got that one.”
In August 2015, Trump tweeted a dig at the presidency of George H.W. Bush, writing: “The last thing we need is another Bush in the White House. Would be the same old thing (remember “read my lips, no more taxes”). GREATNESS!” As a candidate, Bush promised “no new taxes” but reversed himself in office.
Those harsh assessments were set aside in the Trumps’ comments Saturday.
“President Bush guided our nation and the world to a peaceful and victorious conclusion of the Cold War,” the Trumps wrote. “As President, he set the stage for the decades of prosperity that have followed.”
“And through all that he accomplished, he remained humble, following the quiet call to service that gave him a clear sense of direction.”
They wrote that those whom Bush had inspired to public service were “illuminating the greatness, hope and opportunity of America to the world.”
Trump, the 45th president, paid tribute to “the life and legacy of 41.”