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Jenna Bush Hager reacts to Capitol riots: 'I kissed my grandfather goodbye in that rotunda'

In an emotional segment, the TODAY with Hoda & Jenna co-host opened up about her personal connection to the Capitol and how she shares in the nation’s pain.
/ Source: TODAY

Growing up as the daughter of one president and the granddaughter of another, Jenna Bush Hager has a unique perspective on the United States Capitol — as both an important political and public space and as a deeply personal place for her family.

So, on Wednesday, when she watched a mob bring violence and chaos to a location filled with so much meaning, she looked on with a “grieving heart” and shared in the nation’s pain.

“I have to say, one of the best privileges of our job is that we travel all around the country and we meet incredible, ordinary, extraordinary teachers, nurses and kind people,” she said Thursday morning on TODAY with Hoda & Jenna.

But those weren’t the people she saw in the videos and photos that document the riot in the Capitol.

“What was so hard, I think, for so many of us who have grieving hearts, is that these images are not our America,” she said. “This is not the America that you know; this is not the America I know; it’s not the America that we want our kids to know.”

The scenes of destruction that everyone witnessed were particularly jarring when juxtaposed with Jenna’s own memories of the venue so vital to this country.

“I have had the privilege of standing on those steps for several inaugurations,” she said with tears welling in her eyes. “Not just for family members, but for the first Black president of the United States of America — when I was a teacher in inner-city D.C. and that meant so much to so many. I kissed my grandfather goodbye in that rotunda. I have felt the majesty of our country in those walls, and nobody can take that from any of us.”

Jenna and her sister, Barbara, stand with their husbands in front of the casket of their grandfather, late former President George H.W. Bush, as he lies in state in the Capitol Rotunda in 2018.Mark Wilson / Getty Images

She went on to explain that part of the pain that so many people feel in the wake of the riot in D.C. is due to a sense of helplessness in the face of it all.

“But we’re not,” she said. “Because the casual cruelty that we find on the internet and in the words of leaders that do not reflect our country, we can stop that. We can share kindness and smiles and love. And we can take back ... our country that we all love so very, very much.”

That’s where her optimism lies now — in the good nature of the Americans she knows are out there.

“Seeing people that represent the good and spotlighting them, we have an opportunity,” Jenna said. “And I have faith that our country will be better.”