Incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will miss the funeral for former President Gerald Ford because he and five other Senators are junketing to South America to visit Inca ruins.
Reid left Washington Wednesday afternoon with three other Democrats and two Republicans on a trip that will tour the Machu Picchu Inca ruins and visit the Presidents of Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru.
Such junkets are typical during the holiday Congressional break although other House and Senate leaders have canceled such trips when a former head of state dies. Two such trips were canceled for the funeral of former President Ronald Reagan as well as the death of disgraced former President Richard Nixon.
Reid, however, refused to junk the junket.
“They would be difficult to cancel,” Reid spokesman Jim Manley said via mobile phone as the congressional delegation took off in a U.S. military plane. In fact, such trips are canceled all the time as Congressional schedules change.
The senators are also scheduled to be in Cuzco, Peru, on Sunday, which would give them an opportunity to view the nearby Inca ruins and anything else in advance of New Year’s Eve.
Manley said the senators opted to skip Ford-related ceremonies over the next few days because of the long-scheduled meetings with the South American presidents, noting that U.S. relations with some of the countries are in need of improvement.
Manley did not rule out the possibility that the delegation might return to Washington for at least one Ford-related event, perhaps a church service Tuesday morning. But their meeting with Peru’s president, scheduled for the afternoon, could interfere with that, he said.
“Senator Reid has tried to reach Mrs. Ford,” Manley said, adding that the senator had not received a return call from her before the delegation had departed for South America. Manley later added that Reid had called the former first lady to express condolences, and also to explain why the delegation might not make it back to Washington for the funeral.
Durbin’s office released a statement before he left, calling Ford, who died Tuesday at age 93, “a man of principle, integrity and honesty who helped heal the nation during some of our darkest times.” He offered his “deepest condolences” to the Ford family.
Other senators making the trip are Kent Conrad, D-N.D., Judd Gregg, R-N.H., Robert Bennett, R-Utah, and Ken Salazar, D-Colo.
(Includes information from The Associated Press)