There were three presidents at the March on Washington commemoration yesterday, a host of high-ranking elected officials and quite a few celebrities, but there was one group that was conspicuously in absentia: Republicans.
As pointed out by The Washington Post and others, “not a single Republican elected official stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Wednesday.”
While commentators on Fox News surmised that this was because they weren’t invited, event organizers have confirmed that a slew of prominent Republicans, including Presidents H. W. and George W. Bush, declined the invitation to attend the festivities and stand on the stage with Presidents Obama, Clinton and Carter.
“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,” Rev. Leah D. Daughtry, executive producer of the commemoration, told The Washington Post. “We attempted very vigorously to have someone from the GOP participate and unfortunately they were unable to find someone who was able to participate.”
Daughtry said her committee began inviting members of Congress four or five weeks before the event, so they had plenty of time to prepare.
According to Mediaite, the list of Republicans invited to the event included House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and Senator John McCain (R-AZ), who voted against making Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day a federal holiday in 1983. They declined due to unspecified “scheduling conflicts.”
As for the two former presidents, both of them reportedly are dealing with health issues and decided to skip the event.
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“He’s doing fine, but he’s not able to get up to Washington this week,” said Freddy Ford, a spokesman for George W. Bush, who is still recuperating after undergoing surgery this month for an arterial blockage.
But George W. Bush did manage to stop by the Southern Methodist University’s football practice on Tuesday.
Bush issued a statement paying tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. and noting that the nation has made great progress since King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech half a century ago. But he did point out that the country’s “journey to justice is not complete.”
“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,” Bush said in a statement. “May we continue to march toward the day when the dignity and humanity of every person is respected.”
“Dr. King was on this Earth just 39 years, but the ideals that guided his life of conscience and purpose are eternal. There’s still a need for every American to help hasten the day when Dr. King’s vision is made real in every community.”
As for the elder Bush, 89, his health problems have been more severe, as he was released from a lengthy hospital stay in January after experiencing severe bronchitis symptoms.