Boehner is instead scheduled to attend a reception on Wednesday night on behalf of Maria Cino, a former top House GOP aide who is seeking the Republican National Committee chairmanship. Boehner is backing Cino’s challenge to current RNC Chairman Michael Steele.
Senior Democrats - who to date had been impressed with Boehner’s response to the Arizona tragedy - expressed surprise at what they saw as an unmistakable misstep by the new speaker: appearing at a partisan political event on the same night as the the president, first lady Michelle Obama, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the Arizona congressional delegation come together at the memorial service for the victims of an attack that nearly took the life of a member of the House. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) was critically wounded in Saturday’s attack, while six other people died and a dozen more were wounded.
“It is disrespectful for Speaker Boehner to skip joining the President’s and bipartisan congressional delegation to the Tucson Memorial so he could host a Washington D.C. cocktail party for RNC members,” said a Democratic leadership aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
The Boehner staffers also insisted that, as speaker, Boehner’s place is on Capitol Hill, not in Tucson. They noted that Boehner had opened an hours-long tribute on the House floor Wednesday to Giffords and the other shooting victims and attended a bipartisan prayer service afterward. Because Air Force One left at 1 p.m., Boehner couldn’t have flown to Arizona and also attended the Capitol prayer service.
Michael Steel, a Boehner spokesman, said: “Today, Rep. Giffords’ colleagues on both sides of the aisle honored her and mourned those who were lost. The speaker felt his place was here in the House, with them.”
A senior GOP aide called it a “very misleading claim” to suggest that Boehner was somehow slighting Giffords or the other shooting victims by remaining in the Capitol, even as Obama and Pelosi made the trip to Arizona.
“The speaker made it clear to the White House all along that he would be in the House today,” the GOP aide said. “Their last-minute invite was a courtesy - they knew he was going to be here. The invitation came along after all this stuff in the House had been set up, on a bipartisan basis. The speaker can’t exactly walk away from all that.”
Boehner was clearly emotional during his remarks on Giffords and the other shooting victims when he appeared on the House floor early Wednesday.
“Our hearts are broken but our spirit is not,” Boehner said as he fought back tears. “This is a time for the House to lock arms, in prayer for those fallen and wounded, and in resolve to carry on the dialogue of democracy.”
Boehner added: “We may not yet have all the answers, but we already have the answer that matters most: that we are Americans, and we will make it through this. We will have the last word.”
Yet three days after the Giffords’ shooting, a full-fledged partisan battle has broken out over the attack, especially what may have led accused gunman Jared Loughner to open fire on Giffords and others during a small constituent event at a local supermarket in Tucson.
Former GOP vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin posted a video on Wednesday accusing her critics of a “blood libel” for suggesting that harsh rhetoric by her or other conservatives was a cause for the incident. Pro-gun control activists have lambasted members of both parties for allegedly abdicating their responsibility over U.S. gun policy. And some lawmakers have openly called for beefed-up security for members and senators, even as their colleagues reject such measures as harmful for the conduct of their jobs.