By Jordy Yager and J. Taylor Rushing| Posted: 08/27/09 07:08 PM [ET] - 08/27/09 07:06 PM EDT
Following a brief, private Mass held in a large sunroom facing the ocean at the Kennedys’ Hyannis Port house, the senator’s flag-covered coffin was taken in a hearse that wound through the streets of Boston for about three hours before reaching the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library on a nearby point.
Dozens of lawmakers are scrambling to attend either the funeral or burial for Kennedy, who died at 77 late Tuesday night after a 15-month battle with brain cancer.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) all plan to attend Saturday’s funeral, but not the burial at Arlington National Cemetery. Schumer also plans to attend Friday night’s two-hour “Celebration of Life” memorial service, styled after an Irish wake.
Among Republican leaders, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) plans to attend Saturday’s funeral, but not the burial. GOP Policy Chairman John Thune of South Dakota and Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming, the ranking member of Kennedy’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, aren’t attending either event. Travel plans were unavailable for GOP Whip Jon Kyl of Arizona and Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will attend the funeral in Boston, as will House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller (D-Calif.). Other members, like Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), vice chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, are planning to attend the burial at Arlington but are not making the trip to Boston.
Overall, an international retinue including Ireland’s Prime Minister Brian Cowen is expected to join at least 44 sitting senators and 10 former senators, including Birch Bayh (D-Ind.), who rescued Kennedy from a 1964 plane crash in Massachusetts, according to The Associated Press.
Kennedy’s body is to lie in repose at the JFK Library throughout Thursday night and all day and night on Friday. President Barack Obama is scheduled to deliver a eulogy at Saturday’s funeral.
A private burial ceremony is planned for 5 p.m. Saturday at Arlington National Cemetery, near the graves of President John F. Kennedy and Attorney General Robert Kennedy. So far, the sole public event scheduled is a brief “rolling stop” at the Senate’s east steps sometime after 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
The Senate sergeant at arms’s office is coordinating travel for senators, and has at least one bus to take senators to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, where they will board a plane to fly to an undisclosed airfield in the Boston area. Details are still being planned.
“I think senators and their families and spouses are still making arrangements to get here,” said Terry Gainer, the Senate sergeant at arms.
An extreme example of a scrambling lawmaker is Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.), who heard the news of Kennedy’s death while on a congressional delegation trip to Iraq and Afghanistan. McGovern cut that trip short and embarked on a marathon 26-hour journey from Kabul to Boston, with stops in Kuwait and Germany along the way, to ensure arrival in Boston for the Kennedy funeral.
“When we heard the news, there was never a question of whether Jim would come back, but how fast he could make it,” said Michael Mershon, spokesman for McGovern.
“Ted Kennedy was always there for him. Always. And it went beyond the political and legislative stuff. When Jim and Lisa’s first child was born, the very first call that Jim got at the hospital was from Ted Kennedy. And he wants to be there to say goodbye.”
McGovern is expected to arrive in Boston on Friday afternoon to attend the public viewing in addition to the funeral on Saturday.
Many lawmakers rearranged their plans so they could attend the Boston service or the burial service Saturday evening. Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), for example, postponed a trip for Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) to come to Alaska this weekend to view examples of the effects of climate change.
Though the Senate sergeant at arms's office will fly senators back from Boston to Andrews Air Force Base, the office will have a small role in getting the lawmakers to the Arlington service if they plan on attending.
“Because that’s a private event, there will be much less involvement by the sergeant at arms's office,” Gainer said of the Arlington burial service. “But we’re still working with the family as to how we’ll do that. I do believe that it will be largely driven by the family and the invitations, so we’ll have a negligible role in that.”