WASHINGTON — 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 for Jobs and Freedom, a notable absence for a party seeking to attract the support of minority voters.
Event organizers said they invited top Republicans, all of whom declined to attend because of scheduling conflicts or ill health.
But aides to some GOP congressional leaders said they received formal invitations only in recent weeks, making it too late to alter summer-recess schedules.
The Rev. Leah Daughtry of the House of the Lord Church in Washington, who served as executive producer of the commemoration, said the organizing committee began sending invitations to top leaders of both parties “on a rolling basis probably four or five weeks ago.”
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Former presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush did not attend the event for health reasons, family representatives said. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush also declined an invitation, Daughtry said.
George W. Bush, who is recovering from a recent heart procedure, issued a statement hailing President Obama’s appearance near the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. “There on the National Mall our President, whose story reflects the promise of America, will help us honor the man who inspired millions to redeem that promise,” Bush said.
The absence of any top Republicans came two weeks after national GOP leaders used their annual summer meeting to begin a program to attract minority voters by highlighting the careers of younger “rising stars,” including minority state legislators from Oklahoma and New Hampshire. After a dismal showing among minorities in the 2012 election, many Republican leaders have said the party must do better amid rapidly changing demographics.
Michael Steele, the first black Republican lieutenant governor of Maryland and a former Republican National Committee (RNC) chairman, said event organizers told him of difficulty attracting Republican speakers. He faulted GOP leaders for not making time to attend.
“It’s part of a continuing narrative that the party finds itself in with these big deals for minority communities around the country and how they perceive our response to them,” he said.
Steele was not invited to speak because he isn’t a current party or elected official.
The RNC held its own commemoration event Monday in Washington with black Republicans and conservative civil-rights activists.
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, the most senior Republican in Washington, was invited to attend 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 July 31 at the U.S. Capitol.
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 of South Carolina, the only black Republican senator, who was appointed to his seat this year.