GOP leader chose oil industry over MLK marchers

August 29, 2013
The crowd at the March on Washington anniversary celebration. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
The March on Washington anniversary celebration. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

There are 233 Republicans in the House of Representatives, 46 in the Senate and 30 in governor’s mansions across the country. Guess how many made the effort to appear at Wednesday’s giant rally commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington. Zero. Ed O’Keefe reports:

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.

Democratic congressional leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, weren’t there either, having attended a July commemoration of the march especially for lawmakers — which also included Republican leaders House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia — but the Democratic party was well represented Wednesday by three presidents and a smattering of lawmakers, including civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis of Georgia.

It seems pretty obvious, but if you want to change the fact that your party is viewed skeptically by minorities, and you want to claim Martin Luther King Jr.’s mantel — I’m looking at you Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) – then blowing off the highest profile civil rights event of the year is probably not a smart move, if for no other reason than “optics.” After their losses in the 2012 election, Republicans vowed to make a better effort to reach out to minorities, and just two weeks ago at its summer meeting, the GOP launched a program to attract minority voters by highlighting young “rising stars” in the party.

So what gives? According to O’Keefe, the lawmakers said they “received formal invitations only in recent weeks, making it too late to alter their summer recess schedules.” Republicans had no problem appearing in droves at a hastily organized tea party rally in June, where “[GOP] lawmakers sweltered in a long line waiting to take the stage,” the Wall Street Journal reported. Some weren’t even invited but just showed up hoping to get a chance to speak to the party faithful.

To be fair, Congress was in session then so it was easy for them to merely step outside and into line, but in today’s age, how hard is it to book a plane ticket and reschedule a few meetings? Lawmakers make last-minute changes to their schedules all the time — there is someone in every congressional office whose job is to manage their schedules — so “weeks” seems like enough time to find at least one or two Republicans willing to attend.

So what was did they do instead? Well, Boehner was in Jackson Hole, Wyo., and had no public events scheduled, but he has been headlining GOP fundraisers all this month, so it’s a fairly safe to assume that he was raising cash at the time. Cantor, meanwhile was touring an oil field in North Dakota. The Grand Forks Herald reports:

Cantor, hosted by Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., met with energy industry and community leaders at a crew camp in Williston, toured a drilling site and other oilfield locations in the Bakken and met with North Dakota Petroleum Council members in Watford City.

 

Cantor praised North Dakota’s approach to energy development and said the country needs to follow the state’s example and adopt a national energy policy.

 

“I hope to be able to tell the president that there’s a lot for him to learn here as far as energy production here in America,” Cantor said. “North Dakota seems to have gotten it right.”

The North Dakota Petroleum Council, by the way, is a lobby group that represents the state’s oil and gas industry. That’s what Cantor was doing on the day of the march.

“They asked a long list of Republicans to come,” civl rights leader Julian Bond told MSNBC yesterday, “and to a man and woman they said ‘no.’ And that they would turn their backs on this event was telling of them, and the fact that they seem to want to get black votes, they’re not gonna get ‘em this way.” (Sen. Tim Scott, a Republican from South Carolina and the only black member of the Senate, said he was not invited to the march, though leaders say they invited every member of Congress.)

Bond did credit Cantor for trying hard to find a replacement speaker, but, ultimately, the leader was unable to find a single Republican to attend the event.

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Jonathan Bernstein | August 28, 2013