Former presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton will accompany President Bush to Pope John Paul II's funeral, the White House said yesterday. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will also be part of the small official U.S. delegation, but former presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald R. Ford will not.
President Bush and his wife, Laura, will lead the group representing the United States at the funeral Friday, said White House press secretary Scott McClellan.
Former president Bill Clinton
McClellan said the White House "reached out" to Carter, but he would not explain why Carter was not going.
A spokesman at the Carter Center in Atlanta, Jon Moore, said Carter -- relishing the memories of two visits as president with the pontiff -- had told the White House he wanted to go to the funeral. Upon learning that the Vatican was limiting the U.S. delegation to five people and that "there were also others who were eager to attend," Carter was "quite willing" to withdraw his request, Moore said. He would not comment on whether there was pressure on Carter from the White House. McClellan said: "It was his decision to make. We would have been more than happy to have him be part of the delegation."
Ford, who lives in California, is 91 and no longer travels extensively.
Bush talked about the pope at both his public appearances yesterday, during a Social Security speech in Parkersburg, W.Va., and later after a Cabinet meeting at the White House. "What a great man," Bush said. "It will be my honor to represent our country at a ceremony marking a remarkable life -- a person who stood for freedom and human dignity."
The president is leaving Washington for Rome today and was to spend tomorrow meeting with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi. Bush planned to leave Italy after the funeral to spend the weekend at his ranch in Texas.
Bush will be the first sitting president to attend a pope's funeral.