A wide variety of American political leaders will be in Selma tomorrow to honor the 50th anniversary of the events at the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Among the attendees will be President Obama and former President George W. Bush.
Politico reports, however, that the Republican congressional leadership will not be on hand for the event [updated: see below].
Scores of U.S. lawmakers are converging on tiny Selma, Alabama, for a large commemoration of a civil rights anniversary. But their ranks don’t include a single member of House Republican leadership – a point that isn’t lost on congressional black leaders.None of the top leaders – House Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy or Majority Whip Steve Scalise, who was once thought likely to attend to atone for reports that he once spoke before a white supremacist group – will be in Selma for the three-day event that commemorates the 1965 march and the violence that protesters faced at the hands of white police officers.
It’s not just the House GOP – Senate Majority Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is also skipping the event.
In fairness, it’s important to note that, as of yesterday, 23 congressional Republicans have said they’ll be in Selma for tomorrow’s ceremony, so it’d be an obvious overstatement to suggest a complete GOP no-show. But the Republican leadership – all of which was invited to attend – plays a unique role in representing the party overall. And yet, these leaders declined.
It’s reminiscent of August 2013, when a massive rally was held at the Lincoln Memorial, honoring the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech. Organizers encouraged the congressional Republican leadership to participate in the event, but GOP leaders declined those invitations, too.
To be clear, each of the Republican leaders who declined the invitations – both to tomorrow’s event in Selma and to the 2013 commemoration – may have a perfectly good excuse for their absence. There’s no evidence to the contrary.
But at a certain point, the party needs to realize that it has, among other things, a problem with appearances. On the one hand, the GOP sincerely seems to want to expand its outreach to minority communities, building the party beyond its overwhelmingly white base.
On the other hand, Republican leaders declined to participate in the Lincoln Memorial event in 2013; they’ve declined invitations to Selma; they had no public concerns after learning Steve Scalise attended a white-supremacist event; they’re slow walking the first African-American woman to ever be nominated as Attorney General; and they’re blocking a proposed bipartisan fix to the Voting Rights Act while their brethren at the state level impose new voting restrictions that disproportionately affect people of color.
It’s not unreasonable to conclude that the Republican Party simply must do better than this.
Update: After a full day of criticism from a variety of directions, Republican officials announced this evening, around 7 p.m. eastern, that House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has changed his mind and will attend tomorrow’s event in Selma.