Democrats on Wednesday criticized House Speaker John Boehner for missing a memorial service in Arizona for the victims of Saturday’s shooting in Tucson, as partisan sniping continued around the edges of the attack and its aftermath.
Boehner declined an invitation from President Obama to fly on Air Force One to Arizona for the memorial. Aides said he did so to attend a prayer service in Washington in remembrance of the six killed and 14 wounded. Among the wounded was Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, an Arizona Democrat who survived a point blank shot to the head.
The prayer service Boehner attended began at 1 p.m. on Wednesday and lasted for one hour. Obama departed Andrews Air Force base in Maryland a few minutes after 1 p.m.
But Democrats said Boehner could have attended the rally in Tucson if he had wanted to.
“Don’t you think they could have worked with the White House on timing to make sure he got on AF1?,” a senior congressional aide said. “Hell, as speaker, he could have taken a delegation to Arizona on military air.”
Air Force One took four hours and 20 minutes to arrive, taking off at 1:09 p.m. Eastern Standard Time and landing in Tucson at 3:29 p.m. Mountain Standard Time, which is two hours behind Washington. So if Boehner had wanted to fly on a military transport plane in time to make the Arizona memorial at 6 p.m. MST, his plane would have had to take off from Andrews Air Force base by around 3 p.m. in Washington, putting him in Tucson at 5:30 p.m. MST, with time to motorcade to Arizona University.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, flew on board Air Force One to Arizona so she could attend the memorial, but skipped the prayer service in Washington, sending House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, in her place. Hoyer did not fly to Arizona for the memorial.
Boehner aides said that in addition to attending the prayer service, Boehner had led a tribute to Giffords and the other victims on the floor of the House — where the speaker dissolved into tears during his speech.
“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,” said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel.
Boehner advisers said that the White House invited Boehner late Tuesday night as a courtesy but knew he would be remaining in Washington.
The explanation did not pacify Boehner’s Democratic critics, who said the Ohio Republican chose to attend a reception for Maria Cino, his choice to be chairman of the Republican National Committee, instead of the memorial in Arizona.
“Tell these guys to give me a break. Bottom line: he’s not there and he’s Speaker of the house. He’s not there and is at an RNC event tonight. Period,” a Democratic aide said.
This article originally identified Pelosi as a Republican.