Ed O’Keefe, The Washington Post, Published August 28 2013
Republicans absent from March on WashingtonWASHINGTON – Not a single Republican elected official stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Wednesday with activists, actors, lawmakers and former presidents invited to mark the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington – a notable absence for a party seeking to attract the support of minority voters.
Event organizers said Wednesday that they invited top Republicans, all of whom declined to attend because of scheduling conflicts or ill health.
But aides to some GOP congressional leaders said they received formal invitations only in recent weeks, making it too late to alter their summer recess schedules.
The Rev. Leah Daughtry of the House of the Lord Church in Washington, who served as executive producer of the commemoration, said the organizing committee began sending invitations to top leaders of both parties “on a rolling basis probably four or five weeks ago.”
King’s eldest son, Martin Luther King III, said Wednesday he was disappointed “that we didn’t have bipartisanship.” He noted that his mother, Coretta Scott King, had maintained relationships with all the living former presidents. “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.”
Former Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush did not attend the event for health reasons, family representatives said. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush also declined an invitation, Daughtry said.
George W. Bush, who is recovering from a recent heart procedure, issued a statement hailing President Barack Obama’s appearance near 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,” Bush said.
The absence of any top Republicans came two weeks after national GOP leaders used their annual summer meeting to begin a program to attract minority voters by highlighting the careers of younger “rising stars,” including minority state legislators from Oklahoma and New Hampshire. After a dismal showing among minorities in the 2012 election, many Republican leaders have said the party must do better amid rapidly changing demographics.
Michael Steele, the first black Republican lieutenant governor of Maryland and a former Republican National Committee chairman, said event organizers told him that they were having difficulty attracting Republican speakers. He faulted GOP leaders for not making time to attend.
“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.
The RNC held its own commemoration event on Monday in Washington with black Republicans and conservative civil rights activists.
House Speaker John Boehner (Ohio), the most senior 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.