Transcript: James Baker on "Face the Nation," December 2, 2018

George H.W. Bush's last words

The following is a transcript of the interview with former Secretary of State James Baker that aired Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018, on "Face the Nation."  

MARGARET BRENNAN: We turn now to President George H.W. Bush's longtime friend, his Secretary of State James Baker, who joins us from the Baker Institute in Houston this morning. My condolences, sir. I know you were dear friends with the former President. And you were with him in those final moments. Knowing him as you did, for so many years, can you tell us what you took away in those last moments? What is left with you in terms of your memory of him?

FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE JAMES BAKER: Well he was a- he was a- He had great faith in God. He was a religious person who didn't wear his religion on his sleeve but he was a man of great faith. He was a family man. He, as one of your- in your lead-in someone said, one of the things he said he was proudest of was that his children came home and he was proud of that. He was a- he was a selfless, patriotic servant of the United States of America for many, many years. And he was one who did not believe in taking credit. He was one who believed in letting other people get the credit. 

He was courageous. Courageous enough to run for president when nobody knew who he was. He was an asterisks in the polls. He jumped into that race in 1980. He ended up beating such a more popular political figures as John Connally and Howard Baker and Bob Dole and others and had to become the last man standing with Ronald Reagan and therefore ended up being his vice president. So he was- he was a man of great capacity he was a man of great tenderness and sensitivity. He was as someone said, the last gentleman that we've had as president.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Why was it so important to you to be by his side in those last moments?

FMR. SEC. BAKER: Well it was important to me to be by his side because we've been friends for 60 years. That's a fairly long period of time, we- we were doubles partners together here in Houston, we won tennis championships. I knew him well before he ever even got into politics, when he was a businessman. He was my- he was my daughter's godfather. 

I ran every one of his campaigns for president. We were very, very close. He referred to me oftentimes as his best friend. He said our relationship was one of big brother, little brother which was a great honor as far as I was concerned.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Which one were you?

FMR. SEC. BAKER: I was the little brother. And I was very, very happy for-for George H.W. Bush to refer to me as his little brother. And we were extremely close, Margaret and from- from the very- almost from the very time we met back in 1958, for almost 60 years. 

I was there when he passed. His passing was very peaceful, gentle if you will. There were a number of things that I remember about it not- the- he- the- the caregivers. I went to see him on Friday morning, I hadn't seen him for a while, he'd had three bad days. I went to check on him after a run and one of the caregivers said, "Mr. President, Secretary Baker's here," and he looked up at me, opened both eyes looked at me and said, "Jim, where are we going?" And I said, "Well, Jefe" — because that's what I called him, "Jefe," which is Spanish for "chief." I said, "Well, Jefe, we're going to heaven." He said, "That's where I want to go." 

And then as he began to move, to go downhill, they got all of his children on the telephone. Only one of them was able to be with him at the time, his son Neil. They got the others on the telephone and they were all able to tell their father how much they loved him and to say goodbye. And his very last words, the very last words he spoke, were spoken to George W. Bush, President Bush 43, who had told him how much he loved him and that he would see him on the other side. And 41 said, "I love you, too." And that was about 40 minutes before he passed away. 

He kept his sense of humor, Margaret, right up until the very end. My wife Susan was there with me, and I, at one point she went over and put her hand on his forehead and she said, "We love you very much, Jefe." And he cocked one eye open and he said, "Well you better hurry." So, he was, he was, his sense of humor was intact right up to the very end. His passing was really very peaceful. No struggling, no pain at all.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Secretary Baker thank you very much for sharing so much of the personal side. I know you were a key part of helping to shape his foreign policy legacy and so much of his time in office. Thank you for sharing all those intimate details.
FMR. SEC. BAKER: Thank- Thank you Margaret.