President Barack Obama has announced that he will not be attending former First Lady Nancy Reagan’s funeral on Friday, although First Lady Michelle Obama will be there. This announcement caused an uproar among conservatives, who feel that it’s a huge sign of disrespect for him not to attend, especially after he already didn’t attend Justice Antonin Scalia’s funeral. But not everyone is taking his decision so personally. How does Obama’s decision compare to what other Presidents did when former First Ladies passed away? What is Obama doing instead on Friday?
Here’s what you need to know.
Michelle Obama Will Attend Nancy Reagan’s Funeral in Her Husband’s Place
President Obama has decided not to attend Nancy Reagan’s funeral. However, First Lady Michelle Obama will be attending the former First Lady’s funeral service.
Some conservatives aren’t taking the news well. Obama and Republicans are at odds because Obama has said he will appoint a new Justice while he’s still in office. Republicans have vowed to fight that appointment. This is just one of many things that have caused relations between Democrats and Republicans to become even tenser than usual.
However, Obama has always been lavish in his praise and admiration of Nancy Reagan, saying that she helped ease his and Michelle’s transition into the White House. He said that she “could not have been more gracious and more charming” to himself and Michelle when they first entered the White House in 2009, The Hill reported.
He also said, “‘Later, in her long goodbye with President Reagan, she became a voice on behalf of millions of families going through the depleting, aching reality of Alzheimer’s, and took on a new role, as advocate, on behalf of treatments that hold the potential and the promise to improve and save lives.”
Obama Will Be Speaking at SXSW in Austin Instead
Instead of attending Nancy Reagan’s funeral, President Barack Obama is scheduled to be at the South by Southwest conference. SXSW is a festival held every year in Austin, Texas that focuses on interactive/technology, film, and music. Obama will be part of a “keynote conversation” for SXSW Interactive on March 11. He will sit down with the CEO and Editor in Chief of The Texas Tribune to talk about civic engagement in the 21st century and to encourage the audience to apply their ideas to helping technology tackle big challenges, like increasing participation in the political process.
Obama’s keynote conversation will take place at 2:30 p.m. Central at Dell Hall at the Long Center. Not every SXSW Interactive attendee will be able to attend the keynote conversation. SXSW will have a ticket drawing to determine which badgeholders will be admitted. The winners of the drawing will be notified on Thursday night, March 10.
Michelle Obama is scheduled to deliver a keynote address to the music portion of South by Southwest on March 16. She will be speaking on her Let Girls Learn initiative. Their appearance is the first time that a sitting president and the First Lady participated in the festival during SXSW’s 30 year history.
The President has been very open about his respect and admiration for Nancy Reagan. After she passed away, the President said:
As somebody who is lucky enough to have an extraordinary partner in my life as well, I know how much she meant not just to President Reagan but to the country as a whole.”
Obama ordered the the flags be flown at half-staff at the White House, public buildings, military posts, and other facilities until sunset on Friday, after Nancy Reagan’s funeral.
Presidents Don’t Always Attend First Ladies’ Funerals
Sitting Presidents don’t always attend a former First Lady’s funeral, but current and former First Ladies typically do. In fact, Obama also didn’t attend former First Lady Betty Ford’s funeral in 2011. Michelle Obama attended Ford’s funeral, without her husband, according to the LA Times. Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter delivered the eulogy for Ford’s funeral and Nancy Reagan and Hillary Clinton also attended. Former President George Bush was also there, but when he was sitting President he did not attend Lady Bird Johnson’s funeral.
When Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis died in 1994, then-President Bill Clinton delivered a brief eulogy at her graveside, The New York Times reported. He was a long admirer of President Kennedy.
Interestingly, Obama’s decision not to attend may have nothing to do with ideology. According to Vanity Fair, both of Nancy and Ronald Reagan’s children, Ron Reagan and Patti Davis, publicly endorsed Obama’s candidacy.
In Obama’s first press conference after his first election, he was asked which presidents he would talk to for advice. He jokingly said that he didn’t want to get into a “Nancy Reagan thing” about doing seances. Later that afternoon, realizing what he had done, Obama called Nancy Reagan and apologized for what he had said. After that, Michelle Obama called Nancy asking for advice and invited her to have dinner with them.
However, Nancy Reagan and President Obama’s relationship hasn’t been without its stressful moments, Vanity Fair reported. Nancy was a strong advocate for embryonic stem cell research, which was vetoed by Bush. After Obama took office, he reversed Bush’s policy in March 2009. Nancy issued a statement that she was very grateful to Obama for lifting restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. But when Obama had his announcement ceremony about the research, he didn’t invite Nancy Reagan. She told Vanity Fair at the time:
“I would have gone, and you know I don’t like to travel. Politically it would have been a good thing for him to do. Oh, well, nobody’s perfect. He called and thanked me for working on it. But he could have gotten more mileage out of it.”
Conservatives And Others Are Outraged at the President’s Decision
Conservatives have expressed confusion and even outrage over Obama’s decision. Many believe it’s in bad form to not attend a former First Lady’s funeral, especially someone like Nancy Reagan who cared for her husband for 10 years while he suffered Alzheimer’s. Meanwhile, others are saying that if Obama wasn’t personally close with Reagan, then he shouldn’t be expected to cancel on other people who were looking forward to seeing him at SXSW. Opinions vary widely on his decision.
Here are some more reactions to Obama’s decision on Twitter:
Obama Also Incited Outrage When He Didn’t Attend Scalia’s Funeral
Obama also created a lot of controversy when he chose not to attend Justice Scalia’s funeral, despite their at-odds ideologies. Although Presidents often don’t attend former Justices’ funerals, many felt that the funeral of a currently sitting Supreme Court Justice was completely different in significance. According to Townhall, this may have been the first time in the last 65 years that a current president skipped the funeral of a sitting Justice, although early records are not completely clear. Scalia was the only justice to have died in office since Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who passed away in 2005. Bush attended Rehnquist’s funeral and said the eulogy. When Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson died in 1953, Dwight D. Eisenhower was photographed at his funeral.
MSNBC host Chris Hayes’ echoed many people’s confusion about Obama’s decision concerning Scalia’s funeral: