White House defends Obama's decision to skip Scalia funeral

White House defends Obama's decision to skip Scalia funeral
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The White House is defending President Obama’s decision not to attend the funeral of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and pushed back on critics who called it a deliberate snub. 

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Thursday it makes sense to send Vice President Biden to the funeral instead because his “security footprint is a little bit lighter” and he has a longtime relationship with Scalia’s family.

"We believe we have settled on an appropriate and respectful arrangement," the spokesman said.

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Earnest called it disrespectful for Obama’s critics to use the funeral “as some sort of political cudgel."

"The president doesn't think that that's appropriate, and in fact, what the president thinks is appropriate is respectfully paying tribute to high-profile patriotic American citizens even when you don't agree on all the issues," he said. "And that's what he's going to do."

In lieu of attending the funeral, the president and first lady Michelle ObamaMichelle ObamaMichelle Obama holds fitness 'bootcamps' for friends Obama marks Father’s Day: ‘I'm most proud to be Sasha and Malia's dad’ Obamas invited to be honorary football coach at University of Michigan MORE are paying their respects to Scalia and his family on Friday while his body lies in repose in the Great Hall of the Supreme Court. 

But Republicans have slammed Obama for not attending the funeral of the longtime conservative justice, interpreting it as a sign of disrespect to someone who was often at odds with the president. 

The criticism comes at a crucial time for the president, who is making a long-shot bid to get nominee confirmed by the GOP-controlled Senate in an election year.

Republican senators have already vowed to block any nominee Obama puts forth, but his decision not to attend the funeral further inflamed the debate.

Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzRocky rollout for Senate healthcare bill Overnight Healthcare: Latest on Senate healthcare bill | Four conservatives say they'll oppose | Obama slams bill | Health groups offer scathing criticism Cruz floats amendment to Senate healthcare bill MORE (R-Texas), a 2016 presidential candidate, on Thursday dubbed Obama “a lawless and faithless president who's eager to travel to Cuba but unwilling to attend the funeral of Justice Scalia.” 

The White House hasn’t said what the president will be doing during Scalia’s funeral on Saturday, which will be held at the Basilica of the National Shrine in Northeast Washington. 

Biden was a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee when President Ronald Reagan nominated Scalia in 1986. He joined 98 other senators who voted to confirm him. He said seven years later it was the vote he most regretted "because he was so effective."

The vice president said Saturday that Scalia would be remembered as "one of our most influential justices."

Obama also honored Scalia's contributions to the high court during a statement on Saturday after his death.

"He influenced a generation of judges, lawyers, and students, and profoundly shaped the legal landscape," the president said. "He will no doubt be remembered as one of the most consequential judges and thinkers to serve on the Supreme Court."

-- This report was updated at 3:16 p.m.