Not a single Republican elected official — not one — participated in the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, despite invitations from event organizers, reports the Washington Post.
Republicans came up with a laundry list of excuses, from ill health to scheduling conflicts, to justify their absence, but former Republican Chair Michael Steele said that the conservative response is a typical — and damaging — one:
“It’s part of a continuing narrative that the party finds itself in with these big deals for minority communities around the country and how they perceive our response to them,” he said.
Steele was not invited to speak because he isn’t a current party or elected official. “But if I were the current chairman and hadn’t been invited, that’d be a different story,” he said. “If I hadn’t been invited, I would have forced myself on them.”
Read more from the Washington Post:
“We had a very concerted effort, because this is not a political moment. This was about us coming together as a community, so we wanted to be sure that we had all political representations,” Daughtry said. “We attempted very vigorously to have someone from the GOP participate and unfortunately they were unable to find someone who was able to participate.”
House Speaker John A. Boehner (Ohio), the highest-ranking Republican in Washington, was invited to attend Wednesday’s gathering but declined because of a scheduling conflict, aides said.
Boehner was in Jackson Hole, Wyo., and had no public schedule Wednesday but has been headlining dozens of GOP fundraisers nationwide this month. Aides noted that he led an official congressional commemoration of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech on July 31 at the U.S. Capitol that other top congressional leaders attended.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) received an invitation to attend 12 days ago, which was too late to change scheduled political appearances Wednesday in North Dakota and Ohio, aides said.
Senator Tim Scott (R-SC), currently the only Black senator serving in the United States government, was not invited to speak, but his spokesperson issued the following statement minimizing any political controversy that fact could potentially cause:
“Senator Scott was not invited to speak at the event,” said Greg Blair in a statement to the Washington Examiner. “The senator believes today is a day to remember the extraordinary accomplishments and sacrifices of Dr. King, Congressman John Lewis, and an entire generation of black leaders. Today’s anniversary should simply serve as an opportunity to reflect upon how their actions moved our country forward in a remarkable way.”
Scott was appointed by South Carolina governor Nikki Haley earlier this year after former Sen. Jim DeMint retired.
Though the GOP couldn’t find time to attend the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, the Republican National Committee did manage to organize a separate event at the Capitol Hill Club. Former U.S. Rep. Allen West and T.W. Shannon, speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives, were in attendance, as were other high ranking conservative officials.
Though the Republicans engaged in clear passive-aggressive behavior in declining to attend the commemoration, there was at least one who responded with dignity and class.
Former President George W. Bush, who was invited but couldn’t attend because he is recovering from heart surgery, issued the following statement:
Laura and I are proud to join our fellow Americans in commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech.
When Reverend King came to Washington, D.C., in the summer of 1963, his purpose was to hold our Nation to the standards spelled out in the Declaration of Independence. He called all of us to live up to that document’s fundamental promise and the underpinning of our founding – that all of us are created equal and endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights. From the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, with thousands gathered around him, Dr. King looked out over the American capital and uttered simple, powerful words that changed the hearts of millions. The dream he had spread a message of hope, justice, and brotherhood that took hold in the hearts of men and women around the world.
Our country has come a long way since that bright afternoon 50 years ago; yet our journey to justice is not complete. Just to the East of the Lincoln Memorial, where President Obama will speak on Wednesday, stands the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. There on the National Mall our President, whose story reflects the promise of America, will help us honor the man who inspired millions to redeem that promise.
Dr. King was on this Earth just 39 years, but the ideals that guided his life of conscience and purpose are eternal. Honoring him requires the commitment of every one of us. There’s still a need for every American to help hasten the day when Dr. King’s vision is made real in every community – when what truly matters is not the color of a person’s skin, but the content of their character.
Laura and I thank the King family and all who work to carry on the legacy of a great man and the promise of a great Nation. May we continue to march toward the day when the dignity and humanity of every person is respected. And may God continue to bless America.
His brother, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, declined his invitation.
Martin Luther King III voiced his disappointment in the partisanship tone of the commemorative march:
U.S. President George W. Bush (R) escorts Coretta Scott King throughout the White House after the signing of a proclamation celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on January 21, 2002 in Washington D.C.
“It would have been great” to see, King said, “that around the banner of Martin Luther King everyone could come together, because Dad represented the interest of all who were mistreated.”
Photo by TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images
Bush, and his family, maintained a friendship with Dr. King’s widow until her death in 2006.
Unfortunately, their party couldn’t put aside ego and partisanship to come together in that same spirit of shared humanity.