No Republican leaders appeared onstage at Wednesday's celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Civil Right's Movement's March on Washington. Organizers said they invited Republicans, but some of those who were invited say they got the invitation too late to make arrangements.
Several news organizations noted the curious absence of any Republicans, which prompted the event's organizers to address the issue.
"We had a very concerted effort, because this is not a political moment, this was about us coming together as a community, so we wanted to be sure that we had all political representations," the Rev. Leah Daughtry, executive producer of the event and pastor of Lord Church in Washington, D.C., told The Washington Post. "We attempted very vigorously to have someone from the GOP participate and unfortunately they were unable to find someone who was able to participate."
Aides to several Republican leaders acknowledged receiving the invitations, but said they only got them in recent weeks, after the members of Congress already made other plans for their August recess.
Meanwhile, the only black U.S. senator, South Carolina Republican Tim Scott, was not invited to the event.
"The senator believes today is a day to remember the extraordinary accomplishments and sacrifices of Dr. King, Congressman John Lewis, and an entire generation of black leaders," Greg Blair, a spokesperson for Scott told The Washington Examiner. "Today's anniversary should simply serve as an opportunity to reflect upon how their actions moved our country forward in a remarkable way."
The only current black person on the Supreme Court, Justice Clarence Thomas, was also not at the event.
Three Democratic presidents spoke at the event: Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. The two living Republican presidents – George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush – both received invitations, but neither could attend due to health concerns.
Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) was among those invited, but chose to speak at last month's congressional ceremony marking the event instead.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) attended the original March on Washington in 1963. As a congressional intern at the time, he stood on the steps of the U.S. Capitol as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech. He was not invited to Wednesday's event.
Some conservatives have complained that the event was too partisan. In particular, many felt that one of Clinton's lines, "A great democracy does not make it harder to vote than it does to buy an assault weapon," was harsh and disingenuous.
"This was very much like a Democratic Party convention," National Review's Jonah Goldberg argued Wednesday on Fox News' "Special Report." " ... It was a rally of some impressive people, some true historical heroes, and a bunch of hacks, like Al Sharpton. And I thought that was really unfortunate."