SEPTEMBER 12, 2022
WASHINGTON, D.C. – President Joe Biden won’t be taking a delegation with him when he travels to London for the state funeral for Queen Elizabeth II, making it unlikely that ex-presidents like Barack Obama and Donald Trump will go.
The White House announced Sunday that Biden had accepted an invitation to attend the funeral. But the invitation “was for the president and the first lady only,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Monday.
What we know about invites to Queen Elizabeth’s funeral
- Buckingham Palace didn’t grant Biden permission to bring a U.S. delegation with him to the ceremony next Monday at Westminster Abbey.
- Since the invitation from the palace was for President Biden and Jill Biden, former U.S. presidents would be able to attend only if they got their own invitations. Former President Jimmy Carter did not get an invitation, his office said. Spokespeople for Obama, Trump, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton did not comment.
- Westminster Abbey is expected to be full for the funeral, so attendance by foreign leaders will be limited to one representative from each country and their partner, according to Foreign Office documents obtained by Politico. The Foreign Office did not respond to a request from USA TODAY for comment.
Who is expected to attend Queen Elizabeth’s funeral?
Presidents, prime ministers, and kings and queens from all over the world are expected to be in London for Queen Elizabeth’s state funeral Sept. 19 in Westminster Abbey, the same church where her official coronation took place in 1953.
Have former presidents traveled to high-profile overseas funerals before?
In the past, presidents have invited their predecessors to accompany them to high-profile funerals.
President George W. Bush attended Pope John Paul II’s funeral with two former presidents – his father, George H.W. Bush; and Bill Clinton. Barack Obama brought George W. Bush with him on Air Force One to Nelson Mandela’s funeral, while Clinton and Jimmy Carter traveled to the service separately.
Other presidents have tapped their predecessors to attend state funerals when they couldn’t go themselves.
President Theodore Roosevelt attended the state funeral of Britain’s King Edward VII in London in 1910 at the request of his successor, William Howard Taft. Roosevelt, dressed in a suit, top hat and coat thrown over his arm, marched in the funeral procession.
Roosevelt was popular in Britain and was viewed as the equivalent of European royalty, so it made sense that Taft would choose him to represent the United States, said Jeffrey Engel, director of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
What experts say about the situation
- “It’s well within the British government’s right to place limits on delegation sizes,” said Lewis Lukens, who served served as deputy chief of mission of the U.S. Embassy in London from 2016-2019.
- British authorities don’t try to determine who gets invited to an event such as a royal funeral, “they let the countries decide who (participates),” Lukens said.
- If, for example, Biden and the first lady had not been able to attend and the U.S. decided to send Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Douglas Emhoff, the “Brits would be OK with that,” Lukens said.
- In some cases, the British government might make an exception and allow the U.S. to bring a larger delegation because of the special relationship between the two longtime allies. But not in this case because of “high demand” for seats, Lukens said.
- Even if Biden had been allowed to bring ex-presidents with him, Trump probably would not have been invited, political analysts said.
- The animosity between the two men is so poisonous – Trump still refuses to accept the results of the 2020 election, while Biden accused Trump and MAGA Republicans in a prime-time address of threatening the very foundations of democracy – that it’s unfathomable that Biden would ask Trump to join him at the queen’s funeral, political analysts said.
- “Trump never so much as acknowledged Biden’s win in 2020, and for all sorts of well-documented and well-understood reasons, Trump represents a distinct threat to our own democracy,” said William Howell, a political scientist at the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy. “The honorable thing, right now, is not to bring Trump back into the fold.”
- Former presidents have historically been called on to represent the country at such events as a way to demonstrate American friendship, goodwill and respect, Engel said. Trump, however, is different, Engel said, noting the former U.S. president’s unpopularity with the British public.
- Just 32% of people in the U.K. expressed confidence that Trump would do the right thing regarding world affairs in a Pew Research Center survey in January 2020.
- Politics aside, there’s an even more practical reason for Trump to stay away from the queen’s funeral, Engel said. “One shouldn’t do anything that’s going to overshadow the person who died,” he said. “And the (queen’s) funeral is not about the American presidents or American politics. The funeral is about honoring the longest-serving sovereign in British history. If Trump were to go, that’s all we will be talking about.”
Britain’s King Charles III walks past the coffin of his late mother, Queen Elizabeth II, inside St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh on September 12, 2022, during a service of Thanksgiving for her life. – JANE BARLOW, POOL/AFP via Getty Images