The House Republican leadership will send a representative to Selma, Ala., after all.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California will join President Obama and more than 100 members of Congress—including Representative John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat and legend of the civil rights movement—on Saturday in Selma in honor of the 50th anniversary of the historic march to Montgomery and the brutal police attacks that occurred on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Republican Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina tweeted a photo early Saturday:
After Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell initially said that no one from the GOP leadership team would attend the commemoration, CNN reported Friday night that McCarthy planned to attend. McCarthy told CNN that "he considers John Lewis a close friend, and wants to be there to commemorate the historic anniversary."
Prior to Friday night, at least 23 rank and file congressional Republicans were planning on visiting Selma this week. The GOP leadership has tried to mark the event in other ways, including this statement from Boehner on the foot soldiers honored with Congressional Gold Medals:
Today, 50 years after the Selma to Montgomery marches began, the House honors the brave foot soldiers who risked their lives to secure the blessings of liberty for all Americans. The harrowing images of that day - the unspeakable violence perpetrated against those who marched - summoned us to live up to our founding principles. Their actions commanded change, and today we live in a better America because they fought and died to make it so. Guided by their determination, inspired by their courage, and moved by their call for justice, let us honor their sacrifice by rededicating ourselves to the cause of freedom and equal opportunity for every American.
But the absence of Boehner, McConnell, and other members of the leader ship was very conspicuous. Selma is seen as one of the events that helped pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Given the GOP's focus on voting laws (which many see as efforts to suppress the votes of minorities) and its efforts to outreach to minorities, writers on the right argued skipping the event was a bad idea.
In the National Review, a conservative publication, Charles C.W. Cooke argued that Selma is just as important to American history as the American Revolution's Siege of Yorktown. "As it would be unthinkable for the leadership of the Republican party to ignore July Fourth, it should be unthinkable for its luminaries not to celebrate the anniversary of the March to Montgomery either," Cooke wrote.
And prior to McCarthy's announcement, Ron Christie, a former member of the Bush administration who recently moderated a panel at the Conservative Political Action Conference on minority outreach, was more direct. "The Republican leadership needs to get off their ass and get down to Selma to do the right thing for the millions of constituents they represent," he wrote in the Daily Beast.