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US Capitol Prepares for Reagan to Lie in State - 2004-06-08


The U.S. Congress has postponed most legislative business this week while the nation mourns the passing of the late President Ronald Reagan. The Senate has passed a resolution allowing the Capitol Rotunda to be used for Mr. Reagan's body to lie in state.

The Senate passed the resolution by voice vote and sent it to the House of Representatives for its expected approval on Tuesday. It is the first of several measures to be passed by Congress in response to Mr. Reagan's death. Other resolutions are expected to pay tribute to the former president's life and service, and express lawmakers' sorrow at his passing.

Mr. Reagan's body is to be flown from California to Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington Wednesday. From there, his remains will be brought into Washington by a formal funeral procession. The casket will be transferred from a hearse to a horse-drawn caisson, a two-wheeled military vehicle, that will be driven to the Capitol building. There, the body will lie in state until Friday morning.

"Half-masted [half-staffed] flags will snap in the wind, cannons will pound the air with salutes, and a horse-drawn caisson will solemnly pull a flag-draped casket of Ronald Wilson Reagan up to the hill of our capital city," says Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.

Tens of thousands of people are expected to pay their respects to the former President at the Capitol. Security will be especially tight. Meanwhile, lawmakers are expected to spend much of the week recalling Mr. Reagan's life and legacy.

Senator Frist began the personal tributes in a speech on the Senate floor, recalling the former president's role in ending the Cold War. "Ronald Reagan believed in what he said, and that conviction came through. He believed there is good and evil in the world, and that America stands for the good," he says. "He believed we must protect freedom wherever it may be threatened, and plant its seeds wherever freedom might take root. He believed democracy is not the privilege of a fortunate few, but the rightful and ordained destiny for all mankind."

Senator Elizabeth Dole, a North Carolina Republican, served in President Reagan's White House during his two terms in office, first as assistant to the president for public liaison, and then as secretary of transportation. She echoed Senator Frist's comments.

"He literally changed the world," says Mrs. Dole. "Despite conventional wisdom, he determined that communism had to be defeated, not tolerated. He rejected the iron curtain, he rejected the status quo, and his legacy to the world is freedom."

Senator John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, has suspended his public campaigning during the period of mourning. He recalled the late president during a speech to a high school graduation in Ohio Sunday. "President Reagan's belief in America was infectious," he says. "Because of the way he led, he taught us there was a difference between strong beliefs and bitter partisanship."

Mr. Kerry plans to attend the funeral service for Mr. Reagan at Washington's National Cathedral on Friday. A host of national and international leaders are expected to be on hand for the presidential funeral, the first since Lyndon Johnson's in 1973.

Mr. Reagan's remains will be flown back to California later Friday for burial at his presidential library in Simi Valley.

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