Day of mourning declared

Bush will return to the capital, speak at service for Ford

December 29, 2006|By James Gerstenzang and Johanna Neuman | James Gerstenzang and Johanna Neuman,Los ANgeles Times

CRAWFORD, Texas -- President Bush declared that Tuesday will be a day of mourning for former President Gerald R. Ford, and the White House announced yesterday that Bush will return to Washington earlier than planned, pay his respects at the Capitol and speak at Ford's memorial service.

The announcement capped a day of political sensitivity about Washington's four-day farewell for the 38th president.

Yesterday, newspapers published Ford's previously unreported condemnation of Bush's decision to go to war in Iraq as "a big mistake." Ford made the criticism in an interview last year with The Washington Post's Bob Woodward, on condition that it not be published until after Ford's death.

"I imagine folks in the White House aren't overjoyed that he spoke up," said L. William Seidman, Ford's chief economic adviser.

But deputy White House press secretary Dana Perino said Bush was not troubled by Ford's opposition and was "focused on grieving for the late president and praying for his family during this difficult time."

Meanwhile, some conservative critics assailed the Senate's top two Democrats -- Harry Reid of Nevada and Richard J. Durbin of Illinois -- for opting to go on what they called a fact-finding mission to Latin America, returning too late to attend Tuesday's service at the National Cathedral.

"It is astonishing to me that the majority leader and his deputy would not immediately return to honor the memory of a former president and former president of the Senate," said Hugh Hewitt, a conservative Los Angeles radio talk show host. "If their counterparts in the GOP were to decline to attend the funeral of President Carter or President Clinton, I would feel the same way."

Also on the trip are Republican Sens. Robert F. Bennett of Utah and Judd Gregg of New Hampshire.

Incoming Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi intends to attend Ford's funeral but will keep her public schedule for Tuesday, staff members said yesterday.

Those events include a 3:30 p.m. appearance in Baltimore at which the city will rename the 200 block of Albemarle St., where she grew up, Via Nancy D'Alesandro Pelosi. Tuesday's events will kick off a four-day schedule of appearances to celebrate her swearing-in as speaker on Jan. 4.

Grumbling also came from some inside the Ford camp, questioning why it took the Bush White House until yesterday to declare a national day of mourning for Ford, who died Tuesday evening; the timing of that honor for President Ronald Reagan was announced immediately after his death in 2004.

Deputy White House press secretary Scott Stanzel said Bush was following the same schedule that he did when Reagan died: visiting the Capitol to pay his respects six days after the former president died and taking part in the cathedral service the next day.

In addition, he said, the White House is making one of the 747s that the president uses -- known as Air Force One when he is aboard -- available to Ford family members as they travel from California to Washington and then to Michigan for the burial.

The former president's casket will arrive at the east House steps tomorrow evening, in recognition of his nearly 25 years of service in the House as a congressman from Michigan. Following a 7 p.m. state funeral in the Capitol Rotunda, he will lie in state there until Tuesday morning, when the casket will rest briefly at the closed doors of the Senate -- in recognition of his service as president of the Senate while he was President Richard M. Nixon's vice president.

At 10 a.m. Tuesday, a memorial gets under way at the National Cathedral, where dignitaries from around the world are expected. The Ford family will leave Andrews Air Force Base shortly after noon to fly to Grand Rapids, Mich., where Ford will lie in repose until Wednesday afternoon, when he will be buried near his presidential museum.

The scheduling of the Ford funeral was sensitive for Washington, coming just two days before the new Congress takes office.

The Department of Homeland Security designated the four-day ceremony as a special security event.

James Gerstenzang and Johanna Neuman write for the Los Angeles Times. Sun reporter Sumathi Reddy contributed to this article.

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