At March on Washington, congressional leaders absent

August 28, 2013
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
Instead of being in Washington on Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) planned to take part in a commemorative event in Nevada and call into a black radio station in Las Vegas, aides said.

Dozens of activists, actors, boldface names, former presidents and members of the family of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. are speaking at events to mark the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.

But not one leader of the House or Senate is in attendance, on stage or speaking at the event.

Other lawmakers spoke at the official commemoration in Washington on Wednesday, including Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) -- the only surviving speaker from the 1963 march -- and Reps. Joaquin Castro (D-Tex.) and Donna Edwards (D-Md.). Sen. Angus I. King (I-Maine) also spoke, but no Republican lawmakers delivered remarks.

Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), the only black Republican senator, was not invited to attend, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Top congressional aides confirmed that senior leaders were invited to attend and speak but said that events elsewhere kept them away from Washington. The aides also noted that each top House and Senate leader spoke at an event July 31 at the U.S. Capitol to mark the anniversary of King's historic speech.

Instead of being in Washington on Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) planned to participate in a commemoration event in Nevada and call into a black radio station in Las Vegas after a speech Wednesday afternoon by President Obama, aides said. In August 1963, Reid was a student at George Washington University and worked at night as a U.S. Capitol Police officer.

House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) had no public events scheduled Wednesday, aides said. Aides to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) did not immediately return requests for comment.

Though each of the top congressional leaders maintains a residence in Washington, D.C., the home district of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is the closest to Washington, only about 90 minutes away.

Aides to Cantor said they received an invitation for him to speak at the commemoration just 12 days ago and that he was scheduled to be in North Dakota and Ohio on Wednesday.

Cantor spokeswoman Megan Whittemore said in a statement that Cantor “hopes it’s an outstanding event fitting of the incredible legacy of Dr. King and is honored to have had the ability to honor that legacy earlier this year in Selma, Alabama with Congressman John Lewis.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) spoke Saturday at another commemoration event held on the Mall and also planned to attend a commemoration event Wednesday at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, aides said.

The official congressional commemoration of the speech took place in late July in the Old House Chamber. During his remarks, Boehner singled out Lewis for praise and suggested that the struggle for civil rights began in the room, when Abraham Lincoln, then a junior House lawmaker, filed a bill granting the president the power to emancipate slaves in the District of Columbia. Boehner said that the story of the civil rights movement is "a story that shakes us forward and shakes us free, a story with room enough for each of us to press on for some cause – some dream – bigger than ourselves."

Follow Ed O'Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost

Ed O’Keefe is a congressional reporter with The Washington Post and covered the 2008 and 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
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