By Jordy Yager - 08/28/09 06:38 PM EDT
Members of Congress canceled plans, bought plane tickets, traveled through multiple countries and crossed oceans in order to make it to Boston for Sen. Edward Kennedy’s (D-Mass.) funeral.
The third-longest-serving senator died late Tuesday night after a 15-month battle with brain cancer.
President Barack Obama was set to deliver the eulogy at the basilica, a place Kennedy frequented in 2002 to pray for his daughter’s recovery as she successfully battled lung cancer. It gave the church a “special meaning for him as a place of hope and optimism,” according to a statement by Kennedy’s staff.
About 92 current and former members of the Senate were expected at the funeral mass as of press time, according to a Senate source.
Following the New England service, a select few lawmakers will follow the Kennedy family and the senator’s body south, flying into Andrews Air Force Base around 3 p.m. and making a stop at the Capitol around 4 p.m. to offer staffers and employees a chance to pay their respects at the base of the Senate’s east front stairs.
After the brief Capitol prayer service, the processional is scheduled to make its way down Constitution Avenue across the Potomac River to Arlington National Cemetery, where a bugler will be on hand to play for the senator’s family and friends at the 5:30 p.m. service.
While the direct route from Andrews Air Force Base to the Capitol was not publicly announced as of press time, Senate Sergeant at Arms Terry Gainer said to expect “rolling closures” along the route, which will likely be along Independence Avenue leading up to the Capitol and along sections of the National Mall.
The large contingent of senators headed to Boston on Saturday includes Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.), though they are not planning on attending the burial at Arlington National Cemetery.
An extreme example of a lawmaker scrambling to make it to Boston 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 his arrival for Kennedy’s 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.”
Other lawmakers likewise rearranged their schedules.
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.
While many of the senators are arranging their own travel for Saturday’s service in Boston, Gainer’s office organized 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. Officials were still discussing details of the trip as of press time.
While much of the House leadership is planning to be in Boston on Saturday, the Kennedy family did not extend invitations to the entire lower chamber, according to the House sergeant at arms’s office.
“It is a Senate event,” said Kerri Hanley, a spokeswoman for the office. “And the Kennedy family invited a few House members. They didn’t invite the entire House or anything like that because there’s too many of us, but they did invite a few House members.”
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is planning to attend the funeral in Boston, as will House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller (D-Calif.), House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).
All of the living presidents are expected to join Obama in Boston, and in addition to local law enforcement, Gainer’s office has been working closely with the Secret Service and the military.
The Senate sergeant at arms typically chooses to coordinate its congressional transportation efforts with a branch of the military and opted for the Army for this weekend’s events because of Kennedy’s service in the Army from 1951 to 1953.
An international retinue, including Ireland’s Prime Minister Brian Cowen, is also expected to join the ranks for Saturday’s service.
Other lawmakers, like Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), vice chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, are planning to attend the invitation-only burial at Arlington but are not making the trip to Boston.
In the days leading up to Saturday’s services, there was a steady and massive outpouring of public condolences offered to the family. The Kennedy family estimated that 25,000 people attended the wake on Thursday night at the JFK Library, which kept the building open to the public until 2 a.m.
As an expression of gratitude for Kennedy’s lifelong dedication to service on Capitol Hill, Senate officials presented the family with the flag flown over the Capitol on the last day of session in the Senate. It lay draped over Kennedy’s casket as mourners paid their respects.