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Why President Biden Sat So Far Back at Queen Elizabeth II’s Funeral

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At the the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, where hundreds of world leaders, royals, and dignitaries of every shape crowded into Westminster Abbey, the seating chart is imbued with meaning. So it’s not a surprise that the position of U.S. President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden were stationed 14 rows back.

They were behind the president of Poland and ahead of the Czech Republic prime minister. The president of Switzerland sat one seat over, next to the U.S. First Lady.

The answer to the query is both routine and extraordinary: The Americans got stuck in traffic.

President Joe Biden takes his seat with wife Jill Biden, other heads of state and dignitaries, at the State Funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, held at Westminster Abbey, London.<span class="copyright">Dominic Lipinski—Pool/Reuters</span>
President Joe Biden takes his seat with wife Jill Biden, other heads of state and dignitaries, at the State Funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, held at Westminster Abbey, London.Dominic Lipinski—Pool/Reuters

While most VIPs took the bus to Westminster Abbey, the Bidens showed up in “the Beast,” the heavily armored limousine that travels with the U.S. President. Biden got one of few exceptions to the strict security protocols around the event, which forbade the guests from taking private aircraft to London and using foreign or state vehicles.

The special treatment, however, ended there.

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According to the schedule of events the palace published, foreign dignitaries were supposed to take their seats in Westminster Abbey between 9:35 and 9:55 a.m., ahead of the official start time at 11 a.m. But the Bidens encountered standstill traffic along the way (one video taken on a cell phone showed the hulking black U.S. presidential limousine crawling past a Pret a Manger).

The Bidens did not arrive at the funeral until 10:07 a.m.

Most of the time, when the President of the United States is late, people wait for him. This was not so at the funeral of the longest-serving British monarch, where international royalty and world leaders congregated by the dozens.

The Bidens were “gently” told, according to the Guardianthat they would have to wait to find their seats while a line of British veterans holding the honor of the George and Victoria Cross processed through the Abbey ahead of them. They followed the last of the military members down the main aisle to their seats.

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When he signed the official condolence book for Queen Elizabeth II the day before the funeral, he said the Queen reminded him of his mother, and it was “an honor to meet her.”

“To all the people of England, all the people of the United Kingdom, our hearts go out to you,” he said in his remarks. “You were fortunate to have had her for 70 years. We all were. The world is better for her.”

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