White House press secretary Josh Earnest suggested today that President Obama would be skipping Justice Antonin Scalia’s funeral Saturday so his appearance there wouldn’t be politicized.
After answering questions about Obama’s trip to Cuba in March, Earnest was asked why Obama doesn’t want to attend the services at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
“The president and first lady tomorrow will be traveling to the Supreme Court building to pay their respects to Justice Scalia whose body will be lying in repose at the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has organized this opportunity for the American public to travel to the Supreme Court on Friday and pay tribute to Justice Scalia. That’s exactly what the president and first lady will be doing tomorrow,” Earnest said.
“Like thousands of Americans, not all of whom agree with Justice Scalia’s view of the law, they do agree that his service to the country and his service to an institution that is critical to our democracy warrants special attention,” he added. “And the president will pay his respects to Justice Scalia and his service to the country by traveling to the supreme court tomorrow.”
“Why wouldn’t he just go to the funeral?” a reporter pressed.
Earnest stressed that Vice President Biden would be “representing the administration at the funeral” because he “had his own personal relationship with Justice Scalia and his family.” He also suggested security at the D.C. cathedral, which recently hosted Pope Francis, played a factor. “Obviously, when the vice president travels to some place his security footprint is at least a little bit lighter.”
“But given his personal relationship with the family and given the president’s desire to find a respectful way to pay tribute to Justice Scalia’s service to the country, we believe we have settled on an appropriate and respectful arrangement,” Earnest added.
“I think all of this should be viewed in the context of the comments that the president offered in person on Saturday evening just a few hours after receiving the news of Justice Scalia’s death. The president addressed the news media and spent the bulk of his remarks paying tribute to Justice Scalia and his life. When asked about Justice Scalia at a news conference on Tuesday, the president once again took the opportunity to speak at length about his respect for Justice Scalia’s intellect and commitment to the rule of law and his service to the country.”
Earnest said “all of that taken together reflects the kind of approach that I think that most Americans are looking for from their leaders in Washington, D.C.”
“There’s so much rancor and politics and partisanship that we allow ourselves to get drawn into differing — different corners to the extent that some people actually want to use the funeral of the Supreme Court justice as some sort of political cudgel,” he said.
The White House hasn’t indicated what might be on the president’s Saturday schedule, but it appears he will be in town. On Sunday, Obama will deliver remarks at the National Governors Association dinner at the White House.