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THE NATION | Remembering President Ford

Even in passing, a consensus-builder

The funeral brings a brief truce to Congress on the eve of the handover to Democrats.

December 30, 2006|Faye Fiore and Johanna Neuman | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — As the funeral for a Republican president prepared to collide with the installation of a new Democratic Congress, federal officialdom scrambled Friday to properly mourn the one and celebrate the other.

Not exactly known for camaraderie during the last few years, leaders of the two major political parties had to at least make nice while arranging for conflicting ceremonial events -- a responsibility made all the more fraught by the imminent power shift coming to the Capitol.

The GOP leadership team of House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) had wrapped up for the year and gone home when the death of former President Ford pulled them all back to town for a state funeral tonight -- one that not even President Bush, ensconced for the holidays at his ranch near Crawford, Texas, planned to attend.

And Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) juggled what were to be four long-planned days of events celebrating her gender-barrier-breaking milestone, which suddenly overlapped with Washington's unexpected four-day farewell to the 38th president.

The way events were taking shape, Washington might have looked to the rest of the world like a reception hall swept up after a morning wake then decorated for an afternoon wedding. The federal city's final goodbye to Ford, scheduled to end Tuesday at noon, would be bumping up against a 3:30 p.m. party in Baltimore's Little Italy, where part of Albemarle Street was to be renamed Via Nancy D'Alesandro Pelosi.

After spending hours Friday calculating the awkwardness of that juxtaposition, Pelosi's staff announced the street-naming ceremony would be moved to Friday.

"She had a great deal of respect and admiration for President Ford," Pelosi's spokesman Brendan Daly said, adding that the legislator would attend Tuesday's memorial service at the National Cathedral.

Since Ford's death the day after Christmas, it had been unclear whether the outgoing Hastert or the incoming Pelosi was taking the lead in arranging the part that Congress -- the institution Ford served and treasured for 25 years before he moved to the White House -- would play in Washington's official send-off.

In the end, Hastert took the public lead, but Pelosi's blessing was implicit.

Ford, known as a consensus-builder, might have appreciated the bipartisan spirit his passing brought, however briefly, to the usually vicious world of politics. Hastert and Pelosi aides traded e-mail about logistics. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the new Democratic majority leader, was to stand with Hastert to meet Ford's body when it arrives this evening at Andrews Air Force Base.

And former President Carter -- who defeated Ford in 1976 -- plans to deliver the eulogy in Grand Rapids, Mich., a final note of grace in a friendship forged after Carter left office. Ford had asked his former rival to speak at his funeral, offering to do the same if Carter -- 11 years younger -- died first.

This evening's state funeral will be in the Capitol Rotunda, where Ford's casket will sit on the catafalque hastily built for Abraham Lincoln in 1865, a simple bier of rough pine boards. Presidents have been eulogized under the majestic dome ever since.

Vice President Dick Cheney -- who served as Ford's chief of staff -- Hastert and Republican Senate President Pro Tempore Ted Stevens of Alaska will eulogize the former president tonight beginning at 7.

The Capitol's doors will open for public viewing at 8 p.m. until midnight, and again from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday and New Year's Day. Recording devices, cellphones and cameras will not be allowed.

The White House announced that Bush would speak at a second service at the National Cathedral on Tuesday morning. Afterward, Ford's body will be flown to Grand Rapids for internment at his presidential museum.

Washington then will turn its attentions to the new Congress and the nation's first female House speaker.

A Wednesday morning Mass in remembrance of the children of Sudan's Darfur region and Hurricane Katrina will be said at Trinity University, the Catholic women's college Pelosi attended here, Class of 1962.

Afternoon tea will be served in the stately Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium on Constitution Avenue in a women's event that will pay tribute to the late Texas Gov. Ann Richards.

And Tony Bennett is scheduled to sing at an Italian Embassy dinner designed to highlight Pelosi's roots.

Thursday begins with a bipartisan interfaith prayer service in honor of members of the military before the gavel is formally passed at noon. Pelosi will deliver her first speech as leader of the full House before posing for mock swearing-ins with any interested House member, a traditional and usually tedious affair.

A celebration concert at the historic and cavernous National Building Museum ends the day at 6:30 p.m., with Hollywood luminaries and recording artists such as Carole King.

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