With Pope’s Funeral, Congress Playing This Week ‘By Ear’

Posted April 4, 2005 at 5:00pm

Confusion over Congress’ schedule reigned for much of Monday, as leaders scrambled to figure out who would be attending the funeral of Pope John Paul II Friday morning.

By the end of the day, it was still unclear how many Members and Senators would be in attendance, but it was clear that the week’s schedule would be disrupted.

“It will definitely impact the schedule,” said Amy Call, spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.). “We don’t have a concrete schedule yet, [or know] if we will have any votes or what, but we will definitely take the appropriate amount of time to pay respect to the pope.”

Call made it clear that a delegation of Senators would be going to the Vatican. But she added that the exact number of invitations extended, and the manner in which they would be distributed, had not yet been determined.

“We’re going to get a bipartisan group together and to accommodate as many Senators as possible,” she said. “I know everybody’s been talking numbers, but we just don’t have a number yet.”

One Senate staffer speculated that invitations would be given out based on seniority and leadership positions, but added that “there seems to be quite a bit of confusion.”

Some Senators, however, seemed more assured of their status on the Congressional delegation. One aide to Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Penn.) said that his boss would be attending. “The scheduler and the Senator said that he would be in attendance,” the aide said.

On the House side, the situation is in even greater flux. No official invitation of any sort has been extended to Members of the House said one aide.

“We’re waiting for an invitation,” the aide said. “We don’t know if it’s supposed to come from the State Department, the White House, the Vatican embassy or what.”

He added that Members of Congress are “trying to follow the appropriate protocol … This is a Vatican-controlled event, and it would be awfully inappropriate for Congress just to invite ourself.”

The confusion over which Members would be invited has also led to some fluidity in the House and Senate schedules, with staffers saying that they will have to “play it by ear.”