Forty to Attend Papal Funeral

Posted April 5, 2005 at 6:49pm

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) will head up a Congressional delegation of 40 Members to the funeral of Pope John Paul II in Vatican City on Friday.

After days of frenzied and often confused discussion among leaders and rank-and-file Members, including impassioned pleas from several lawmakers wishing to attend, the trip, which departs this evening, slowly came into focus Tuesday. Fourteen Senators and 26 House Members will join the CODEL, with Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) serving as the top Democrats on the trip. The Senate delegation is evenly divided between the parties, while 14 Republicans and 12 Democrats will make up the House group.

Votes in both chambers were suspended for Thursday, forcing House leaders to scrap a planned vote on a Senate-passed bankruptcy reform measure, and Senate votes were also cancelled Friday.

Catholics dominate the ranks of the chosen few who will attend.

Republicans Senators on the trip will be Frist and Sens. Rick Santorum (Pa.), Susan Collins (Maine), Jim Bunning (Ky.), Mike DeWine (Ohio), Pete Domenici (N.M.), and Mel Martinez (Fla.).

Notably absent from the Democratic delegation is Minority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.). Reid, a Mormon, said that the decision to choose his party’s delegation was “based on seniority and religion. … If I went, it would take away a spot from Catholics that wanted to go.”

In addition to Durbin, the Democratic delegation comprises Sens. Edward Kennedy (Mass.), John Kerry (Mass.), Joseph Biden (Del.), Patrick Leahy (Vt.), Chris Dodd (Conn.), and Barbara Mikulski (Md.).

Hastert and Majority Leader Tom DeLay (Texas) will lead Republican House Members while Pelosi and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) will join the 10 other House Democrats on the trip.

Other Republicans who will be attending include Reps. Christopher Smith (N.J.), Christopher Cox (Calif.), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.), John Boehner (Ohio), Bob Goodlatte (Va.), Peter King (N.Y.), Steve Chabot (Ohio), Phil English (Pa.), Mark Foley (Fla.), Gil Gutknecht (Minn.), Ray LaHood (Ill.) and Bob Ney (Ohio).

Additional House Democrats on the trip will be Reps. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.), David Obey (Wis.), Charlie Rangel (N.Y.), Marcy Kaptur (Ohio), Jerry Costello (Ill.), Mike McNulty (N.Y.), Anna Eshoo (Calif.), Tim Holden (Pa.), Bart Stupak (Mich.) and Sheila Jackson-Lee (Texas).

The process of selecting Members for the CODEL was not an easy one. “The Democratic leader and the Republican leader got together and discussed this,” according to Durbin spokesman Joe Shoemaker. “Reid talked to individual members and made the decision on who should be invited. Obviously, these are all Catholics.”

A spokesman for Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.), George Dalley, said that the method of choosing “seems to be based strictly on seniority.” The fact that three of the four senior-most Democrats are Roman Catholics is only a coincidence.”

With the CODEL leaving Wednesday night and not returning until Friday (time differences mean the funeral will be seen in Washington, D.C. at 4 a.m.), there will be a decided impact on the Congressional schedule. A GOP leadership aide said that the votes Thursday had been cancelled. “The bankruptcy vote has been postponed, and the hope is to reschedule it in short order,” the aide said, although a new date has not yet been set.

Congressional leaders are still in the process of working out logistical details related to travel and lodgings. Included in the list of problems are finding an airplane and waiving a rule that dictates that no more than 12 Senators can be on a single plane at one time.

The rule was imposed after 65 Senators flew to the 1968 funeral of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy (D-N.Y.). Although the plane reached its destination without incident, it was decided that the possibility of having a majority of the Senate wiped out in a freak airplane accident could be avoided by limiting the number of legislators on each flight.

Dodd holds fond memories of the pope.

“My reaction [to John Paul II’s death] was ‘This was a life well lived,’” Dodd said. “This guy didn’t get a post and sit there. He did something with it.” Dodd said the pope should be remembered among other things for his willingness to meet with people with whom he had disagreements with on social and political issues. The Connecticut Senator said he appreciated the fact the pope never sought to alienate or punish him for his views on abortion. Most of the Democratic attendees support abortion rights, a fact that often puts them in conflict with leaders in the church.

“I am a pro-choice Senator,” Dodd said. “The Vatican knew my views and yet I wasn’t told I couldn’t go to the Vatican to meet the pope. Unfortunately, I am told in some cases I can’t go into parochial schools in my state. I am sure the [pope] did have a problem with my views but he also knows what I did on other matters.”

Mark Preston and Erin P. Billings contributed to this report.