House Cancels Votes for Billy Graham to Lie in Honor in Capitol Rotunda

Senate will remain in session Wednesday and Thursday

Hawaii Sen. Daniel K. Inouye lies in state on Dec. 20, 2012, on Capitol Hill. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Hawaii Sen. Daniel K. Inouye lies in state on Dec. 20, 2012, on Capitol Hill. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted February 22, 2018 at 4:23pm

The House is shortening its Feb. 26 work week, canceling votes that Wednesday and Thursday, for the late Rev. Billy Graham to lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda.

“As is traditional, votes are no longer expected in the House on Wednesday, February 28, or Thursday, March 1,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s office announced. “Last votes next week will now occur during the evening hours of Tuesday, February 27.”

The tradition McCarthy’s office cites does not appear to extend to both chambers. The Senate will still be in session Wednesday and Thursday, a spokesman for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, but votes have not yet been scheduled for those days. 

McCarthy’s office did not return a request for comment on precedent for the tradition. 

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Congressional leaders have the authority to allow deceased prominent citizens to lie in state or lie in honor in the Capitol. The most recent person to lie in state was Hawaii Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, who died in December 2012 while in office. 

Graham, an influential preacher who served as an adviser to 12 consecutive U.S. presidents, will be the first religious leader to lie in honor. A bicameral service will be held as his casket arrives Wednesday; the public will have access later that day and Thursday to pay their respects. 

Most of the deceased who have lain in the Capitol were former presidents, members of Congress who died in office, and war heroes. In those cases, the term used is “lying in state.” 

But for other prominent U.S. citizens who are not considered a member of government, the term used is “lying in honor.” Before Graham, the only people to have lain in honor at the Capitol were civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks and Capitol Police officers Jacob Joseph Chestnut and John Michael Gibson, who were killed in the line of duty, according to the Architect of the Capitol.

Hectic month ahead

The House’s decision to cancel votes comes during a busy legislative period. 

Congress faces an official March 5 deadline to enact legislation to replace the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program, which shelters roughly 700,000 young undocumented immigrants known as “Dreamers” from deportation.

But federal court rulings have blocked the Trump administration from formally ending the program, effectively buying lawmakers more time. Republicans appear unlikely to schedule a DACA vote before March 5.

Also looming is a March 23 government funding deadline, and lawmakers still have a lot of work to do to put together a fiscal 2018 omnibus funding bill that can pass by then. 

And while there’s no deadline for Congress to take legislative action on mass shootings like the Feb. 14 massacre at a Parkland, Florida, high school, President Donald Trump has said he’d like to see some movement on that. 

House Republicans are unlikely to be receptive to any gun restriction measures, despite Trump’s recent support for ideas such as raising the minimum age for certain gun purchases to 21 and enhancing the federal background check system. 

House Democrats, who have questioned how serious Trump is about action on gun safety, were likely to spend floor time next week pushing for gun control. With the week now cut in half, they’ll have less time to do so.

Joe Williams contributed to this report.