America’s most exclusive fraternity – the presidents club – assembled to mourn George HW Bush, putting on public display its uneasy relationship with the current occupant of the Oval Of
By Catherine Lucey and Zeke Miller, Associated Press
December 5 2018 9:10 PM
America’s most exclusive fraternity – the presidents club – assembled to mourn George HW Bush, putting on public display its uneasy relationship with the current occupant of the Oval Office.
The uncomfortable reunion brought President Donald Trump together in the same pew with past White House residents who have given him decidedly critical reviews.
The late Mr Bush was the de facto chairman of the modern incarnation of the presidents club, transcending contentious campaigns and party lines to bring together fractious personalities who share that rarefied experience.
But the staid group of Oval Office occupants has been disturbed since Mr Trump’s election.
Since his swearing-in, Mr Trump has spurned most contact with his predecessors – and they have snubbed him in return.
The Bushes had made it known to the White House months ago that, despite differences in policy and temperament, the late president wanted Mr Trump to attend the national service.
The ceremony’s tributes at times stood as an unspoken counterpoint to Mr Trump’s leadership, as historian Jon Meacham eulogised Mr Bush by recounting his life’s credo: “Tell the truth, don’t blame people, be strong, do your best, try hard, forgive, stay the course.”
George W Bush added of his father: “He could tease and needle, but not out of malice.”
Ahead of Wednesday’s state funeral for the late president, former presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter and their spouses chatted easily among themselves from their seats in the front row at Washington’s National Cathedral.
The ex-presidents leaned over their wives to chat to one another, and Mr Clinton and former first lady Michelle Obama shared a quiet conversation.
But the Trumps’ arrival, minutes ahead of the motorcade carrying Mr Bush’s coffin, cast a pall on the conversation.
First lady Melania Trump approached first, greeting both Obamas and Mr Clinton with a handshake.
Hillary Clinton appeared to nod at Mrs Trump but did not interact with Mr Trump himself and stared straight ahead during the service.
Mr Carter waved a hand.
The president then shook hands with both Obamas before taking his seat.
After that, the small talk along the row largely stopped.
Next followed George W Bush, who, by contrast, shook hands with the entire row of dignitaries – and appeared to share a moment of humour with Mrs Obama, slipping something into her hand.
Mr Bush took his seat across the aisle from the ex-presidents, with the rest of the Bush family.
The Trump-Obama handshake marked the first direct interaction between the current president and his immediate predecessor since Inauguration Day 2017.

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