Former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele blasted Republican congressional leaders as “boneheaded” for declining invitations to speak at Wednesday’s commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, while also criticizing the event’s organizers for not offering a speaking slot to Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC.), the nation’s only black senator.
“For all the whining and promises about ‘reaching out’ and ‘having a conversation’ with black folks, you’d think House and Senate GOP leaders would be falling all over themselves to stand before the nation to not only speak to the legacy of Dr. King, but to affirm for the African-American community the Republican Party’s commitment to ‘the cause of freedom.’ So much for a commitment. There are no words…well, maybe one: boneheaded,” Steele said in a e-mail message to theGrio.
He added, “The lineup of speakers were at once impressive and at times a bit partisan, but they each represented in their own way a continuation of the national conversation begun 50 years ago by Dr. Martin Luther King. So what happened? Why wasn’t Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) extended an invitation to speak; and why did the Republican leadership turn down theirs? Did it not occur to someone in planning the celebration of Dr. King’s speech that perhaps it would be important to invite to the podium the only African American currently serving in the United States Senate? Surely his being a Republican had nothing to do with the egregious oversight.”
Organizers of Wednesday’s event, who did not want to quoted publicly, said invitations were extended to George W. Bush, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Virg.). They also invited ex-Florida governor Jeb Bush after the ex-president declined, citing health reasons.
The Republican National Committee had hosted its own celebration of the event on Monday, and aides to Boehner noted he had attended a ceremony on Capitol Hill in July that marked the anniversary.
The criticisms from Steele are not surprising, as the former Maryland lieutenant governor has long argued his party should try harder to win minority votes and feuded with congressional leaders on his proposals to reach that goal when he was RNC chairman.
But the party’s absence from the event is unlikely to aid the efforts of party leaders, most notably Steele’s successor as RNC chairman, Reince Priebus, who announced a broader minority outreach plan earlier this year.