Tomorrow night a group of lay Catholic leaders will break bread at the White House with the President, but the Administration is scratching its head over the guest list.
Says a White House staffer who had worked with the White House Public Liaison Office and the Office of Political Affairs. “Senator [Sam] Brownback wasn’t on the list of suggested guests, and we knew he was a Catholic.”
When the White House went back to the RNC to see if there had been a simple oversight or miscommunication, the White House was told that the supplied guest list was accurate and final. “We assumed he wasn’t in town or had other commitments,” says another White House staffer, explaining why the White House itself didn’t add the Kansas Senator to its invite list.
According to the White House aides, the two men largely viewed as responsible for that list are Republican National Committee Catholic Outreach co-chairs Jack Kelly and Leonard Leo, who according to White House sources were asked to pull together the guest list for the event being held, in part, to celebrate the arrival of Pope Benedict XVI to Washington.
Brownback’s office declined to comment. The Prowler learned of the snub from sources inside the White House who were disappointed to see Brownback and other Catholic leaders excluded from the list.
“This appears to be less an event for Catholic leaders and more an event for Catholics who know Jack and Leonard and get along with them,” says an invited guest who declined the invitation.
When others guests who will attend the dinner were contacted, they were surprised by Brownback’s exclusion. “Given this special week, I would have expected the organizers and the White House to have understood that unity trumps politics,” says one attendee, referencing the fact that not only is the Pope visiting the U.S this week, but Friday is the annual National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, at which President Bush is expected to make remarks.
Kelly and Leo were named Catholic outreach co-chairs by the RNC in 2006. Under Kelly and Leo’s leadership, the Republican Party has seen Catholic support drop precipitously across the country. Leo, best known for his leadership role with the Federalist Society, has been dealing with a credibility problem with conservatives ever since he chose to serve as the key public surrogate for the President’s nomination of former White House counsel Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court.
Perhaps not coincidentally, Brownback led the fight against that nomination. Now Brownback, along with former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, is chairing Catholics for McCain, with an outreach operation that according to McCain campaign staff is largely being run out of the McCain offices, not the RNC.
“I’m sure they [the RNC] will be helpful at some point, but Senator McCain has put together a great team that made great inroads in the Catholic vote during the primary season, and we expect it to do the same in the general election,” says an outside consultant to the campaign. “The RNC can’t say the same about its past efforts, and that’s probably a sore point.”
Apparently a sore enough point that a prominent Catholic U.S. Senator is left off a White House guest list for national Catholic leaders.
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