Will Trump Sit with the Bushs, Clintons and Obamas at the 41st President's Funeral?
The state funeral for former President George H.W. Bush will be held at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday
President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump will attend George H.W. Bush‘s funeral, raising the question of whether Trump will sit with his predecessors — who have at times been critical of Trump — at the former president’s service.
The state funeral for Bush, who died at age 94 on Friday, will be held at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday at 11 a.m. ET.
All living former presidents — Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter — are slated to attend, CNN reported. Former first ladies Michelle Obama (who called off book tour appearances in Europe to make it to the funeral), Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton are also planning to attend, though Rosalynn Carter is not. Former Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Jill Biden are also expected to pay their respects in person.
Precedent suggests that Trump will sit with his fellow presidents. At former President Richard Nixon‘s funeral in 1994, the Clintons, Bushes, Reagans, Carters and Fords sat together in a long line reflecting the order of their presidencies.
At former President Ronald Reagan‘s funeral in 2004 and former President Gerald Ford‘s funeral in 2007, the living presidents and first ladies in attendance sat in two rows. While the seating arrangement at Reagan’s funeral also reflected the order of the administrations, Ford’s did not.
Though tradition suggests the presidents and first ladies will all sit together at George H.W.’s funeral on Wednesday, the fact that one of those presidents is related to the late president being mourned at the funeral — George H.W. and George W. are just the second father and son in U.S. history to both be president — complicates matters. George W. and wife Laura may prefer to sit with family members instead of former presidential couples.
A spokesperson for the family did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian who knew the 41st president, told PEOPLE that Bush included Trump in the service out of reverence for the office.
“For Bush 41, Trump is the president, and he does not want to stiff a sitting president, so in his own way, it is magnanimous that he is having Melania and Donald Trump come,” Brinkley said.
“In its own way, it may normalize the estrangement Trump feels from the so-called establishment that Bush personified,” Brinkley added.
Susan Page, USA Today‘s Washington bureau chief who is writing a biography of former First Lady Barbara Bush, tells PEOPLE that Bush’s move to welcome Trump is to be expected.
“Yes, the modern tradition is that sitting presidents attend the funerals of past presidents,” she says.
RELATED VIDEO: In Memoriam: George H.W. Bush
In April, Trump did not attend the late Barbara’s funeral, while Mrs. Trump did attend. At the time, the White House stated that Trump was opting out of the funeral “to avoid disruptions due to added security, and out of respect for the Bush family and friends attending the service,” the Associated Press reported.
Brinkley suggested that the former first lady did not want Trump to attend her service in the first place. “The cruder aspects of Donald Trump — the mean Twitters and the name calling — [Bush] found that gauche, and that is why Barbara Bush did not want Donald Trump at her funeral,” Brinkley said.
However, as Page notes, “It is not the custom for sitting presidents to attend the funerals of past first ladies. In both those cases [George H.W.’s and Barbara’s funerals] it’s in line of how it’s been handled previously.”
In September, Trump did not attend Sen. John McCain‘s funeral, where Obama and the younger Bush spoke. A McCain family source told PEOPLE in August that “John didn’t ban Trump” from attending, despite reports suggesting the contrary.
“I didn’t hear John say it,” a second family source said. “But I wouldn’t be surprised if John didn’t want Trump there.”
The elder Bush had mixed feelings about the Trump era, Brinkley suggested. “I think that [Bush] had such respect for the institution of the presidency that Trump annoyed him because he was trying to divide the country at times,” the friend said.
“Nevertheless, when it came to being a stalwart Republican, he was for Judge [Brett] Kavanaugh‘s confirmation,” Brinkley commented. “He wanted to see Republican friends of his get posts in government.”
Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court in October was controversial after he was accused by multiple women of sexual assault. He denied the allegations. The second Bush president publicly showed support for Kavanaugh, who worked for his administration, in the wake of the scandal.
“Looking forward to being with the Bush Family to pay my respects to President George H.W. Bush,” Trump tweeted on Monday.
“President George H.W. Bush led a long, successful and beautiful life,” he wrote on Saturday. “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!”
“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,” the statement read.