And the British government is apparently unhappy about it, too. Sources within Whitehall told the Daily Mail that the Obama administration’s decision to skip sending an envoy to what has become a de facto state funeral for one of America’s staunchest Cold War allies came before the Boston terrorist attack yesterday, and that the White House had cited a “busy week” for the reason they couldn’t even spare Joe Biden for Margaret Thatcher’s funeral:
Friends and allies of Baroness Thatcher expressed ‘surprise and disappointment’ last night as it emerged President Obama is not planning to send any serving member of his administration to her funeral.
Whitehall sources have revealed that the US delegation at tomorrow’s service in St Paul’s Cathedral will be led by two Reagan era secretaries of state: James Baker and George Shultz.
Though President Obama himself had not been expected to attend, there had been speculation that he would be represented either by Vice President Joe Biden or wife Michelle. However, the Obama administration had said it would not be attending Thatcher’s funeral before the Boston bombings.
The Queen’s decision to attend Lady Thatcher’s funeral has effectively elevated it to a state occasion unprecedented for a political figure in Britain since the death of Sir Winston Churchill in 1965.
Other world leaders, including Canada’s Stephen Harper, Mario Monti of Italy and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, are attending the service in person.
Normally, that would prompt attendance by a high-level figure in the US government — if not the President or Vice-President, a high-ranking Cabinet official. For instance, why not send John Kerry, the Secretary of State tasked with maintaining good relations with close allies like the UK? Instead, the US delegation will consist of two men who would be traveling as private citizens to the funeral already, essentially giving an official policy of ignoring the event and snubbing the other world leaders attending it.
And why? Obama and Biden are too busy pushing gun control, according to the US embassy:
But a US embassy spokesman confirmed that no serving member of his administration would be present to pay their last respects, citing a busy week in US domestic politics.
‘This is a hugely significant week in terms of US domestic politics,’ a spokesman added.
He said that both the First Lady and the Vice President were ‘the President’s point people on gun control’, adding: ‘This is a week when there is a lot of movement on Capitol Hill on gun control issues.’
Well, Kerry isn’t part of that, is he? (Oh, wait ….) They’re too busy to pay respects to someone who stood by America as a stalwart partner in the latter years of the Cold War, when it might have been easier for her to keep her distance. Shameful. And it’s not being ignored in the UK, either:
Former defence secretary Dr Liam Fox, Lady Thatcher’s closest ally in modern-day politics, said: ‘I think it would be both surprising and disappointing if after President Obama’s fulsome tribute to Lady Thatcher, the American administration did not send a senior serving member to represent them.’
Sir Gerald Howarth, chairman of the Thatcherite Conservative Way Forward group of MPs and peers, said: ‘The bonds forged between the UK and the US through Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher was instrumental in ending the Cold War and liberating millions of people.
‘That the present administration feels unable to be represented as the world marks the extraordinary contribution Margaret Thatcher made will be a source of disappointment to those who served with her in that great endeavour.’
Update: Just as a reminder, Congress decides separately on delegations to events such as this. I’d expect to see both the House and Senate send small delegations to the funeral.
Update: Just received by e-mail, but it actually came out yesterday:
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) today announced he will send a delegation to London this week to represent the U.S. House of Representatives at the funeral of Baroness Margaret Thatcher, former prime minister of the United Kingdom. The delegation will be led by Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN).
“Margaret Thatcher was one of the greatest champions freedom has ever known, and her funeral gives Americans and friends around the world an opportunity to pay final respects,” Boehner said. “I’m pleased that Congressman Blackburn will lead a House delegation to Baroness Thatcher’s funeral to communicate our prayers and condolences to her family and the British people.”
The House delegation to London will also include Reps. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and George Holding (R-NC).
The House delegation will fly to London on commercial air flights, in compliance with the Speaker’s directive that Member use of military air transportation be suspended with sequestration in effect.
Also, our ambassador in London should attend the funeral, but that’s not the same as sending a delegation representing the head of state.