When House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) declined to speak at the March on Washington 50th anniversary rally Wednesday, he was choosing instead to meet with a North Dakota oil and gas lobby group, The Washington Post reports.
According to the Grand Forks Herald, Cantor met with North Dakota Petroleum Council members in Watford City, toured oil drilling sites and spoke with leaders of the energy industry in Williston on Wednesday.
Cantor aides told The Washington Post that the invitation to speak at the anniversary rally came just 12 days before the event, too late to change his prior commitments, but Cantor tried unsuccessfully to find another Republican official to take his place.
Cantor's office told The Huffington Post that "the Majority Leader hopes it was an outstanding event fitting of the incredible legacy of Dr. King and is honored to have had the ability to honor that legacy earlier this year in Selma, Alabama with Congressman John Lewis." An aide also referred HuffPost to a piece Cantor wrote for Yahoo! News this week about the legacy of the civil rights movement.
Not a single Republican elected official spoke at Wednesday's anniversary rally. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) also turned down an invitation to address the crowd. He was in Jackson Hole, Wyo., although his schedule showed no public events for that day. Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said the speaker "was invited, but spoke at the Congressional ceremony instead, as did Sens. Reid and McConnell, and Rep. Pelosi," according to Roll Call.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also skipped Wednesday's event. Aides said that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was not invited to speak, according to the Post. Congress is in recess this week, and many lawmakers are not in the nation's capital.
George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, the two surviving Republican former presidents, were invited but could not attend due to health recovery issues, USA Today reported.
President Barack Obama, former President Bill Clinton and Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) were among the leaders who spoke to a crowd of thousands on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
"They asked a long list of Republicans to come," civil rights leader Julian Bond said on MSNBC Wednesday, "and to a man and woman they said no. And that they would turn their backs on this event was telling of them, and the fact that they seem to want to get black votes, they're not gonna get 'em this way."