RNC recommended several speakers for March on Washington

August 29, 2013

Officials with the Republican National Committee said Thursday that they recommended to organizers of the official commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington the names of several current and former black Republican elected officials who might have been available to speak at the event.

The RNC provided the organizers a list of suggested speakers via e-mail on Aug. 14 -- just two weeks before the event at the Lincoln Memorial -- after several other current and former Republican officials declined to attend and speak due to scheduling conflicts or ill health, according to RNC communications director Sean Spicer.

Spicer said that the list included Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), the only black U.S. senator; former Rep. J.C. Watts (R-Okla.), who for several years was the only black Republican House lawmaker; and T.W. Shannon, the 35-year-old African-American speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives and a member of the RNC's "Rising Stars" program launched recently to highlight the work of younger and minority conservative GOP activists and elected officials.

Spicer declined multiple requests to provide a copy of the e-mail sent to event organizers.

Event organizers also said Thursday that in addition to inviting top congressional leaders and former presidents to attend and speak at the rally beginning five weeks ago, a general invitation was sent to House and Senate lawmakers via e-mail on Aug. 8 -- just 20 days before the event. The invitation was sent during the first full week of the five-week congressional summer recess, when lawmakers are normally home in their districts, traveling the country or the world on official or campaign travel or on vacation.

Greg Blair, a spokesman for Scott, said that the senator's office received "a blanket bcc invitation that looks like it went to every office" on Aug. 8.

"There was no action or effort to have the senator speak" at the event, Blair said.

Laura Gross, a spokeswoman for Leah D. Daughtry, the executive producer of the rally, said Thursday that the invitation was sent via e-mail and that subsequent follow-up invitations were made via e-mail or phone. She declined to provide a copy of the invitation or answer other questions about people invited to attend.

In a statement, Daughtry said, "The Coalition for the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington invited many people to attend, including Members of Congress, the diplomatic corps, governors from all 50 states, mayors and former presidents. The King Center invited many others to speak and worked earnestly with congressional leadership and others to secure speakers from the elected leadership on both sides of the aisle."

In an interview Wednesday, Daughtry said that organizers had invited Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to speak, but he declined and sent "a wonderful personal note" to the King family instead. McCain's office confirmed that he was invited but unable to attend.

Daughtry in the interview also thanked the office of House Majority Leader Eric I. Cantor (R-Va.), saying that his aides had tried unsuccessfully to find a Republican lawmaker who could attend and speak in Cantor's absence. Cantor's office confirmed Daughtry's account and said they had received an invitation to speak at the rally just 12 days before the event.

In addition to Cantor, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) declined to attend due to scheduling conflicts. Former presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush also declined due to poor health; former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton attended and spoke.

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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