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Trump breaks character in show of respect for George H.W. Bush

A statue of George H.W. Bush outside the

A statue of George H.W. Bush outside the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station, Texas, seen on Sunday. Bush died Friday at the age of 94. Photo Credit: EPA / Larry W. Smith

A point of light

A display of humble deference at the passing of an American statesman and war hero is not a gimme with Donald Trump. In August, when Sen. John McCain died, the president was slow and grudging to offer words of respect and order the flags to half-staff for a frequent critic. His absence at the funeral was a relief to the McCain family. When Barbara Bush died, Trump wasn't invited to the funeral. 

But the 45th president is hitting the right notes while joining the nation, if not precisely leading it, in mourning the 41st president, George H.W. Bush. By doing so, Trump — whose memory for grudges and slights really does rank among the best — puts aside years of mutual disdain with the Bush family. 

Trump hailed Bush's legacy as a World War II Navy pilot and lifelong public servant. He announced plans to attend the funeral Wednesday and ordered most federal offices closed that day "as a mark of respect for George Herbert Walker Bush." He called him "a wonderful man."

The first President Bush was no fan of Trump, and had said so. A Republican all his life, he voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. He told author Mark Updegrove that he considered Trump "a blowhard" driven by "a certain ego" and said "I'm not too excited about him being a leader.” Back in 2011, when Trump was promoting his false "birther" claims against President Barack Obama, Bush told New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd: "He’s an ass."

Trump derided President George W. Bush and 2016 primary rival Jeb Bush as creatures of the establishment, and his mockery of the Bush family's patriarch spans decades. In a 1990 Playboy interview, Trump said that while he liked and supported Bush, he was too soft. "I disagree with him when he talks of a kinder, gentler America. I think if this country gets any kinder or gentler, it's literally going to cease to exist." 

As late as July, at a Montana rally, Trump made fun of another trademark Bush phrase, "a thousand points of light," used in praise of public service. "What the hell is that?" Trump said. "Has anyone ever figured that one out?"

Either he or members of the White House staff finally figured it out. A joint statement in the name of the president and first lady said, "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."

This could get awkward

The funeral at National Cathedral could put Trump in proximity to the Clintons and the Obamas.

Bush's wish to include him suggests he didn't want his final send-off to be about Trump, as happened at the McCain rites, but rather to be about his life, his presidency and the country, The Washington Post writes.

Shutdown threat wouldn't be prudent

Trump and congressional leaders both want to push back a Dec. 7 deadline for a deal to avoid a partial government shutdown because Capitol Hill will be taking a pause this week to mourn the 41st president.

Trump said he would back a two-week delay. GOP leaders are leaning toward one week, Politico reported. Outstanding issues on the government funding bill include Trump's insistence on $5 billion for his Mexican border wall.

Just a 239-pound gorilla now

For most of his presidency, Trump has relished the role of disrupter at international summits. But at the just-concluded G-20 meeting in Buenos Aires, not so much, The Associated Press reports.

Trump appeared to settle in among his global peers, signed on to the traditional group statement and behaved mostly amiably with traditional allies, The Washington Post said. Trump has created an impression of scaled-back ambitions on the world stage amid mounting political crises at home.

Next China showdown: March madness

Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping agreed at the G-20 to a 90-day cease-fire on escalations to their trade battle. 

"It's an incredible deal," Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One. The U.S. won a side agreement with China to slap controls on fentanyl, a deadly synthetic opioid exported to the U.S. that is responsible for tens of thousands of American drug deaths annually. But many tough issues remain, including technology transfers, intellectual property protection, non-tariff barriers, cyberintrusions and cybertheft, and agriculture.

NAFTA burner

Trump said Saturday he intends to formally notify Canada and Mexico of his intention to withdraw from NAFTA in six months. The move aims to put pressure on Congress to approve his new trade deal with the two U.S. neighbors, but it's unclear whether Trump has the power do scrap the original pact on his own.

The hurdle of congressional approval for the NAFTA replacement got higher when Democrats won the House. They have complained that labor and environmental provisions are not strong enough and have signaled they would like those concerns addressed as part of the implementing legislation.

What else is happening:

  • Sloppy work has plagued White House communications under Trump, and the statement about George H.W. Bush was no exception. It said: "As a young man, he captained the Yale baseball team, and then went on to serve as the youngest aviator in the United States Navy during the Second World War." The correct order was Navy first, Yale second.
  • Trump said he expects to hold a second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in January or February and that three locations are being considered.
  • Former FBI Director James Comey dropped his court fight to avoid testifying privately before the House Judiciary Committee after it agreed to quickly release a full transcript. The panel, still in Republican hands, wants to grill Comey over the decision not to prosecute Hillary Clinton and how the FBI investigated Trump.
  • Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan), likely the next Judiciary chairman, said Michael Cohen's revelation of Trump's secret pursuit of a Moscow development project in 2016 proves the Russians held "leverage" over him. "One question we have now is: Does the Kremlin still have a hold over him because of other lies that they know about?" Nadler said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
  • Cohen's plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller is a fresh example of how Trump surrounded himself throughout 2016 and early 2017 with people to whom lying — including to investigators — seemed to be second nature, The New York Times writes. “People are conspiring against themselves, and they are playing right into Mueller’s hands,” said former campaign aide Sam Nunberg.
  • Michael Avenatti has patched up a rift with his most famous client, porn star and Cohen hush-money payee Stormy Daniels. But Avenatti's presidential ambitions may not recover from his arrest on a domestic violence charge, Politico reports.

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