Congress Prepares to Honor Reagan

Posted June 7, 2004 at 11:09am

Congress will clear its schedule to mourn the death of ex-President Ronald Reagan this week, as Capitol officials prepare to have a former commander in chief lie in state for the first time in more than three decades.

The House has postponed all business previously scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday. Instead, the chamber will move Tuesday to pass a resolution allowing the use of the Rotunda for Reagan to lie in state and a privileged “bereavement resolution.”

The House also will vote either Tuesday night or Wednesday on a resolution honoring Reagan’s life and service. The debate on that measure will be the primary forum for lawmakers to pay tribute on the floor.

No plans have been announced for Thursday, but the House is not expected to return to normal legislative business until next week. Federal offices will be closed Friday.

Top Senate leadership aides were meeting late Monday morning to hash out the chamber’s official schedule for the week ahead, with some GOP aides saying they expected to set aside the Defense Department authorization bill for a week of tribute speeches and resolutions honoring the late president.

“You’re going to see the whole week scrubbed,” one Republican staffer said.

Like the House, the Senate is expected to pass a resolution officially allowing Reagan’s body to lie in state in the Rotunda and to hold a state funeral Wednesday evening.

Congressional officials are trying to finalize the logistics of how to move thousands of people through the Capitol and into the Rotunda from the West Lawn. During previous times when bodies laid in state in the Rotunda, the public came directly into the Rotunda from the East Front, up the main steps and into the viewing area. With the ongoing construction of the Capitol Visitor Center, that entire area is blocked off.

“The CVC issue is complicating a lot of lying-in-state issues,” one Congressional aide said. “That’s a logistical concern.”

The aircraft bearing Reagan’s body is scheduled to arrive at Andrews Air Force Base from California at 5 p.m. Wednesday. The official funeral procession along Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol will occur at 6 p.m. after his casket is transferred to a horse-drawn caisson in the 1600 block of Constitution Avenue Northwest, near the Washington Monument and the Ellipse.

An arrival ceremony attended by Members, other government officials and Reagan’s family will occur at 7 p.m. He will lie in state in the Rotunda for public viewing from 8:30 p.m. Wednesday through Friday morning. The Rotunda will be open 24 hours a day during that period.

Reagan’s honoring will mark the first time since Lyndon B. Johnson’s death in January 1973 that a former president has lain in state in the Capitol. In 1998, the bodies of slain Capitol Police Officers Jacob Chestnut and John Gibson lay in the Rotunda to be mourned by the Capitol community.

Reagan’s body will lie on the pine catafalque constructed to hold Abraham Lincoln following his death in 1865.

The motorcade carrying his body will depart the Capitol at 10:45 a.m. Friday and proceed to the National Cathedral for a service officiated by former Sen. John Danforth (R-Mo.), an Episcopal minister.

The Associated Press quoted Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer saying he expected more than 100,000 people to pay their respects while Reagan lies in state.

Capitol tours will cease at 4:30 p.m. today and will not resume until Saturday.

Before Reagan’s death Saturday, the Senate schedule called for a vote late Tuesday morning on a contentious amendment offered by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) on the Defense authorization bill regarding troop strength and Iraq.

While Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) had not been informed Monday morning that the DOD bill was going to be put on hold, there was an expectation that Senate leaders would not want to engage in a highly partisan, divisive debate at this time.

If the Defense bill and all other legislation is set aside this week, that will leave two weeks to get the bill completed before the July Fourth recess kicks off June 25. After that recess, there will be just three weeks to pass legislation before the national nominating conventions begin along with the August recess.

The House, meanwhile, had planned to spend the week focusing on energy legislation. The chamber’s GOP leadership has not yet decided when those measures will hit the floor.