The new speaker of the House skipped a nationally televised memorial in Arizona honoring victims of Saturday’s shootings, opting instead to host a cocktail party Wednesday night.
Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) declined an offer to ride to Tucson on Air Force One with President Barack Obama and other lawmakers, Politico reported.
A Democratic leadership aide told the newspaper it was “disrespectful” of the speaker to miss the memorial service in order to attend a partisan political event, whether or not it was planned in advance.
The party, organized by Boehner’s political action committee, featured 168 members of the Republican National Committee, according to published reports. It took place at at a Maryland resort near Washington at 7 pm EST, coinciding with the memorial slated for 8 pm.
A spokesperson for Boehner told Roll Call Wednesday that the Ohio Republican intended to leave the reception before Obama’s address began.
But that didn’t help the optics of his situation, and newspapers widely reported on Boehner’s decision. The move invited mockery from critics, who suggested the 20-year congressman was having trouble settling into his new role.
At the memorial, President Obama poignantly pleaded for civility in the wake of the national tragedy that left six dead, one of whom was a federal judge, and over a dozen wounded, including Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona.
His speech, in which he called on Americans to transcend partisanship and vitriol as they mourn the victims, was roundly praised by liberals and conservatives.
The service was attended by First Lady Michelle Obama, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, and Arizona Republican Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl.