George W. Bush Told Another Inauguration Attendee Biden Was ‘the Only One’ Who Could Beat Donald Trump

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Tasos Katopodis/Getty George W. Bush, Nancy Pelosi, Barack and Michelle Obama

Former President George W. Bush believes Joe Biden to be the only candidate who could have defeated Donald Trump, according to South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, who told reporters the 43rd president used those words to describe Biden at his inauguration on Wednesday.

According to the 80-year-old lawmaker, a leading Democrat, Bush also commended Clyburn for his role in helping Biden's presidential campaign.

"George Bush said to me today, he said, 'You know, you're the savior, because if you had not nominated Joe Biden, we would not be having this transfer of power today,' " the top Democrat and House Majority Whip told reporters on a call Wednesday, according to The New York Times. "He said to me that Joe Biden was the only one who could have defeated the incumbent president."

Bush's chief of staff, Freddy Ford, later downplayed Clyburn's comments in a statement to the Times and on social media.

"This has been a bit overhyped," Ford (who did not respond to a request for comment from PEOPLE) said to the Times. "President Bush was acknowledging the congressman's role in saving President Biden's candidacy — nothing more, nothing biblical."

Ford also cautioned against reading too much into Clyburn's comments in a tweet published Wednesday, writing: "Let's not make this into more than it is. He was saying Clyburn helped saved Biden's nomination....nothing Biblical here."

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Clyburn threw his support behind the former vice president during the hotly-contested Democratic primary last year.

After Clyburn endorsed him just ahead of South Carolina Democratic primary — a must-win contest for Biden, 78, who then exceeded expectations in the state with an almost 30-point win.

Clyburn co-chaired Biden's inauguration committee, telling reporters weeks ago that the event would be a largely virtual affair.

"We are going to discourage anything that could be a spreader. We are going to say to people: 'Please, follow our example,' " he said.

Bush, 74, along with former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, attended Biden's inauguration at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday morning and went with him to a ceremonial wreath-laying that afternoon.

In Wednesday night's Celebrating America primetime special, the three former presidents appeared together to wish the 46th commander-in-chief luck and to acknowledge the importance of a peaceful transfer of power.

"I think the fact that the three of us are standing here talking about a peaceful transfer of power speaks to the institutional integrity of our country," Bush said then.

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The 43rd president has remained largely out of the political fray since leaving office in 2009 amid the Great Recession and the Iraq War, which had come to define his time in office.

Increasingly, though, Bush has made public comments that nod to a rebuke of the Trump presidency. (He has commented at inaugurations before: After Trump's 2017 address, he remarked, "That was some weird s---.")

Earlier this month, Bush issued a statement strongly condemning the violence and unrest in Washington, D.C., perpetrated by Tump supporters who stormed the Capitol during a joint session of Congress, interrupting the certification of Biden's election win.

"Laura and I are watching the scenes of mayhem unfolding at the seat of our Nation's government in disbelief and dismay. It is a sickening and heartbreaking sight," Bush's statement read. "This is how election results are disputed in a banana republic — not our democratic republic."

Continued the former president: "I am appalled by the reckless behavior of some political leaders since the election and by the lack of respect shown today for our institutions, our traditions, and our law enforcement."