Billy Graham honored at US Capitol ceremony

Political leaders from both sides of the aisle paid their respects Wednesday to the late evangelist Billy Graham under the dome of the U.S. Capitol where he was lying in honor ahead of Friday's funeral. 

Graham’s pine casket arrived at the Capitol surrounded by family as lawmakers and citizens gathered to remember “America’s pastor,” who died last week at age 99. The ceremony will be followed by Graham’s funeral in Charlotte, N.C., on Friday.

"Here lies America's pastor," Ryan said. "He ministered to all walks, from some of the greats whose statues line this hall--Eisenhower, King, Ford, and Reagan--to the everyday citizens lining up today to pay their respects." 

"Today, in the center of this great Chamber lies the legendary Billy Graham – an Ambassador for Christ who reminded the world of the power of prayer and the gift of God’s grace," Trump said.

As the leaders stood by the casket, Trump reached out to touch the bare wood.

Graham met and prayed with presidents of both parties from Harry Truman to Barack Obama, and is only the fourth private person to lie in honor since 1998. The others are two U.S. Capitol Police officers who died in the line of duty in 1998 and civil rights hero Rosa Parks in 2005.

"If there is any American whose life and life's work deserves to be honored by laying in honor in the U.S. Capitol, it's Billy Graham," Ryan said.

Yet, while embraced by members of both parties, Graham was wary of politics. He was closest to Richard Nixon, but later said he felt used by him.

Until his health began to fail about 10 years ago, Graham would minister to other presidents, some of whom paid tribute to Graham after his death was announced.

Former President Bill Clinton recalled seeing one of Graham's crusades as a child, and would later be counseled by Graham both as governor of Arkansas and later as president in the White House.

"In that little room, he was the same person I saw when I was 11 on that football field," Clinton said Tuesday after viewing the casket at Graham's home.

Former President George W. Bush visited Graham’s home to pay his respects also. Trump met Graham at the pastor's 95th birthday party in 2013 and is expected to attend the funeral service in Charlotte on Friday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.