WASHINGTON – Three presidents — both Bushes and Clinton — will attend the funeral of Pope John Paul II (search), along with first lady Laura Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the White House announced Tuesday.
Asked why President Jimmy Carter, who was in office when the pope was installed, is not attending, White House spokesman Scott McClellan replied, "We reached out."
A spokesman with his Carter Center in Atlanta, Jon Moore, said Carter expressed an interest in attending, but the U.S. delegation was limited by the Vatican to five people so Carter withdrew his request.
"He and his wife Rosalynn are very pleased with the official delegation," Moore said of Carter.
President Ford, who lives in California, is 91 and no longer travels extensively.
Clinton was cleared to fly by his doctors after undergoing reparative surgery to remove some scar tissue from his lung that followed quadruple bypass surgery last September. Clinton and George H.W. Bush have traveled extensively together this winter to the Indian Ocean region as President Bush's envoys for tsunami relief efforts.
The funeral is set for Friday. Bush is leaving Washington for Rome on Wednesday and planned bilateral meetings with foreign leaders Thursday. The president planned to leave Italy immediately after the funeral to spend the weekend at his ranch in Texas.
Bush said Tuesday that his attendance at the services would "pay our country's respect to a great world leader."
"He shows that one man can make an enormous difference," Bush said during a Social Security speech in Parkersburg, W. Va. "I look forward to honoring the memory of Pope John Paul II."
Bush will be the first sitting president to attend a pope's funeral. The pontiff died on Saturday, ending 26 years as leader of the Catholic Church.
Bush met with the pope three times during his presidency. On social matters, the two strongly agreed. However, the pontiff did not approve of the war in Iraq, criticized the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. troops and opposed Bush's support for the death penalty. During their final meeting last June, Bush presented the pope with the Medal of Freedom (search) and the pope responded by reading a statement that said he had "grave concern" about events in Iraq.
In addition to the official U.S. delegation, FOX News has learned that a congressional delegation (CODEL) will also attend the pope's funeral. While not "official," the group will be considered "guests of the Vatican" and will be seated at the funeral.
"I am grateful to have the opportunity to travel to Vatican City to express the respect and appreciation of the United States Senate and the American citizens for Pope John Paul II, his wisdom, works and enduring contributions to the global community," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.
Senate Republicans participating in the delegation leaving Wednesday evening include Jim Bunning of Kentucky, Susan Collins of Maine, Mike DeWine of Ohio, Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, Pete Domenici of New Mexico and Mel Martinez of Florida. Democrats on the CODEL will include Sens. Dick Durbin of Illinois, Edward Kennedy and John Kerry of Massachusetts, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Joe Biden of Delaware, Christopher Dodd of Connecticut and Barbara Mikulski of Maryland. All the senators but Frist are Catholic.
Speaker Dennis Hastert and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi will lead a House delegation to Rome. Congress will be out of session on Thursday and Friday.
FOX News' Julie Asher and Trish Turner and The Associated Press contributed to this report.