House Speaker John A. Boehner (Ohio), the highest-ranking 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.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) received an invitation to attend 12 days ago, which was too late to change scheduled political appearances Wednesday in North Dakota and Ohio, aides said.
Cantor led a congressional delegation to Selma, Ala., in March to observe the 48th anniversary of the “Bloody Sunday” march at the invitation of Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), the only surviving speaker from the 1963 March on Washington.
Daughtry said Cantor tried hard to find another GOP lawmaker to take his place but was unsuccessful. Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) also was invited to speak but declined for scheduling reasons, she said.
Among the congressional Democrats who spoke Wednesday were Lewis and Reps. Joaquin Castro (Tex.), Donna F. Edwards (Md.) and Marcia L. Fudge (Ohio), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.
The only senator to speak was Angus King (Maine), an independent who caucuses with the Democrats and who recalled attending the original 1963 march as a young college student.
Aides said King was invited to speak two weeks ago by Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), who also skipped the Washington event but attended a commemoration event in Nevada. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was not invited to speak, aides said.
Other congressional leaders were absent in Washington on Wednesday. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) attended a march commemoration at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco after participating in another event on the Mall on Saturday, aides said.
Some Republicans noted that organizers did not invite Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.), the only black Republican senator, who was appointed to his seat this year. Aides said Scott planned to attend a church service honoring King on Wednesday night in North Charleston, S.C.
Hamil Harris contributed to this report.