No, Boehner didn’t “snub” memorial rally

posted at 1:36 pm on January 13, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

This obnoxious meme began last night when word got out that House Speaker John Boehner didn’t travel with Barack Obama to Arizona for last night’s memorial in Tucson.  Boehner snubbed Obama!  He snubbed Giffords! As Brian Beutler points out at TPM, a look at the schedule makes it clear that Boehner had little choice but to stay in DC (via Radley Balko at Reason):

House Speaker John Boehner is catching a lot of flack for missing last night’s memorial service in Tucson, reportedly declining an Air Force One invitation from President Obama in order to slap backs and clink glasses at an RNC event.

But a look at the timeline of events paints Boehner in a better light.

Yesterday, House members attended a vigil for victims of the Arizona shooting spree in an auditorium underneath the Capitol Visitor’s Center. As they trickled in, a House aide provided reporters, including me, a glimpse of the program of events and list of speakers. There was one small revision to the schedule, though: Minority Whip Steny Hoyer would be reading Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s portion of scripture, because she was on her way to Tucson with the President.

If Boehner had accepted the invitation, then the leaders of both parties would have missed the Wednesday vigil.

Presented with this recollection of events, Boehner’s spokesman Michael Steel confirmed, and defended his boss. “Boehner would not have been able to attend the bipartisan prayer service if he’d gone to Tucson,” he said. “Yesterday, 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.”

Boehner’s role as leader of the House was to be on Capitol Hill to lead the House in its own memorial for Giffords’ aide and its vigil for its member.  Pelosi, as the leader of her caucus, could have appropriately chosen either venue for her public appearance.  Both chose wisely, and both spent their time appropriately honoring the fallen.

Similarly, a lot of criticism over the memorial last night seems to have been misdirected.  People are blaming the White House for the “Together We Thrive” t-shirts that were distributed last night, but that appears to have been a local effort by students at the college, who chose the University of Arizona’s color:

At memorial services for other incidents of national tragedy, the atmosphere has been decidedly more somber. During former president Bill Clinton’s speech after the Oklahoma bombing memorial, for example, applause broke out only a few times, and the clapping was much more subdued.

Some big differences exist, however. Much of the focus was on the hope for the family of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 12 other victims who are still healing from their injuries. The crowd Wednesday night responded joyfully, especially to the news that Giffords had opened one eye in the hospital a short time earlier, and to Obama’s praise of the heroism of Giffords intern Daniel Hernandez.

The venue also differed. Clinton gave his speech at a State Fair arena, whereas a college hosted Obama. The college students created the logo, and passed out t-shirts for the event, possibly imbuing it with more of a pep rally feel.

I too was put off by the cheering, whistling, and catcalling that took place, especially early in the ceremony, and I think that the university’s president, Robert Shelton, could have set a better tone by dialing down the enthusiasm with which he introduced the speakers.  But the speakers themselves took an appropriately reflective tone during the event, and the crowd seemed to finally realize that the party atmosphere was a little off when Obama delivered his speech.  In any case, it doesn’t appear that the White House had anything to do with the t-shirts or stoking the reaction from the crowd that so many found disconcerting; those concerns should be directed to the university instead.

Also, some are accusing Obama of “lying” about Giffords opening her eyes for the first time that day, pointing to a report on Sunday that left some with the impression that she had already accomplished that.  Jake Tapper reports on the confusion:

President Obama’s dramatic news at last night’s memorial service in Tucson that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ has just minutes before opened her left eye for the first time since the shooting has created some confusion in light of news from doctors that Giffords “could open her eyes” on Sunday.

But doctors today provided a simple explanation: Wednesday was the first time Giffords opened her eyes on her own, which Giffords’ neurosurgeon, Dr. Michael Lemole Thursday called “a major milestone.”

“When we examine patients, particularly in this state we have to ‘wake them up,’ give them some stimulus, and with that stimulus they might crack their eyes,” Lemole said today. “That’s very different from speaking to someone and having them open their eyes, or having them open their eyes spontaneously in response to familiarity.” …

The president’s remarks were meant, the White House says, to convey that she had opened her eyes on her own for the first time.

Even if the remark turned out to be incorrect, it wouldn’t necessarily have been a “lie,” either.  That’s something conservatives have pointed out repeatedly when people accuse George Bush of “lying” to get us into a war in Iraq over intelligence about WMD.  It would have applied in this case as well had Obama been mistaken — which as it turns out, he wasn’t.

We have enough to debate, discuss, and do without focusing on these things.


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