Updated at 4:40 pm EST
What’s said on Air Force One sometimes stays on Air Force One.
Particularly when it’s off the record.
Former President George W. Bush, who seldom walked back to the cabin for the traveling press at the rear of the presidential aircraft while in office, visited twice today.
He and the former first lady, Laura Bush, who had made a personal cause of improving the health and general welfare of Africans during his two terms, are traveling with President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama today to South Africa for the national memorial service tomorrow for the former president and liberator, Nelson Mandela.
On one visit to the rear of Air Force One today, Bush brought his wife, who had made her own journeys to Africa to promote anti-malarial, AIDS prevention and other health campaigns during her time in the White House.
Another former first lady, former Secretary of State and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, also paid a visit to the press cabin at the refueling stop in Senegal. She was wearing a silver bracelet with 46664 etched on it, Mandela’s old prison ID. She said he had given it to her.
Bush once invited the press forward to his cabin en route home from the Vatican, a trip that put him in an especially effusive mood. He talked, they wrote.
Today, the 43rd president was sharing a little traveling time privately with the press.
For Bush, who generally has refrained from commenting on public affairs since handing the White House over to Obama, today was talking off the record:
Air Force One refueling in Senegal. Former Pres GWBush spent about 90 minutes in press cabin w/ reporters, but was off-the-record.
— Mark Knoller (@markknoller) December 9, 2013
Bush did say this publicly about Mandela, 95, after his passing:
Pres GWBush says of Mandela: “He bore his burdens with dignity and grace, and our world is better off because of his example.”
— Mark Knoller (@markknoller) December 5, 2013
With Bloomberg’s Margaret Talev contributing from Air Force One