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February 9, 2016

Tim Scott Declined Invite to Attend MLK March as Spectator

The Senate’s only black lawmaker wasn’t invited to speak at Wednesday’s 50th anniversary March on Washington, because Tim Scott’s office declined an invitation to attend the ceremony as a spectator, according to a source connected to the event.

“Much of the speaking program was created based on those who were able to confirm availability to attend the event, and thus were able to speak at the event,” the source explained.

And based on an email exchange obtained by CQ Roll Call, the South Carolina Republican did receive an invitation to attend the festivities commemorating Martin Luther King Jr.’s delivery of the famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

The invitation, sent Aug. 8 from the Coalition for the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, appears to have been a form letter to all members of Congress, with invitees listed as “Representative” rather than by name.

Within a day, Rachel Shelbourne, a staff assistant to Scott, had replied to the email with the following message:

“Thank you for extending to Senator Tim Scott the invitation to the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington on August 28th. Unfortunately, the Senator will be in South Carolina during this time, so he will be unable to attend the event. Please do, however, keep him in mind for future events you may be hosting.”

There were no Republicans on hand to speak at the event, which took place Wednesday at the Lincoln Memorial and featured a roster of high-profile Democrats that included President Barack Obama. Scott’s colleague, Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, also delivered remarks.

The GOP’s absence was lambasted in an MSNBC interview by the prominent civil rights activist Julian Bond, who said that organizers “asked a long list of Republicans to come, and to a man and woman they said ‘no.’

“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,” Bond continued.

Those who turned down speaking invitations included the House’s two top Republicans, Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio and Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia.

The source connected with the event’s organizers told CQ Roll Call that invitations to attend were sent to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., but went unanswered, as did follow-up phone calls to their offices. McConnell was at the Capitol the day of the March on Washington in 1963, and Sensenbrenner has been a champion of reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act.

But Scott, perhaps, would have been the most obvious choice to speak at the event on Wednesday as the only sitting black senator and also someone who was willing to share his thoughts on King’s legacy in the public sphere.

He submitted an op-ed to the South Carolina newspaper The State on how “50 years after the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the determination and courage shown by a generation of black leaders have provided me and countless others with one incredibly important thing: opportunity.”

On Wednesday evening, Scott spoke at a special service in commemoration of the occasion at a church in North Charleston, S.C., where his cousin is a pastor, according to Scott’s spokesman, Greg Blair.

“Humbling to speak about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at services in North Charleston tonight,” Scott tweeted, including a link to an Instagram photo of himself in action.

Blair would not comment specifically about whether Scott was disappointed that he had not been asked to actively participate, which was first reported by CQ Roll Call on Wednesday. He also didn’t say whether Scott would have accepted the invitation to attend the march had that invitation explicitly asked him to play an integral part.

“There was no effort to get the senator to speak,” added an aide with Scott’s office.

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