Presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) at the 2017 National Prayer Breakfast, flanked by Sens. John Boozman (R-AR) and Chris Coons (D-DE).

 

(Image: Screengrab of C-SPAN video.)

Klobuchar Drops National Prayer Breakfast Role

Presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and several other Democrats will not be hosting this year’s National Prayer Breakfast, according to copies of the invitation posted on social media and authenticated by the event’s sponsor.

In the past, Klobuchar has been more than a name on the letterhead. In 2017 — when the Family facilitated Russian attendance — it was Klobuchar who delivered the closing prayer. She spoke at the event as long ago as 2008 and Tweeted as recently as this summer about having co-chaired it.

Attending the Feb. 6 breakfast could carry political risk for some Democrats. Pres. Obama was criticized, for instance, by LGBTQ groups for addressing the breakfast despite reports about its sponsor’s involvement in anti-gay legislation in Uganda. Snubbing the breakfast could carry its own risks. Klobuchar did not respond to a request for comment and it's not clear whether she is still planning to attend or participate.

This year’s invitation lists 19 Republican members of Congress as hosts and 14 Democrats, slightly more disparate than last year, when 14 Republicans and 12 Democrats hosted.

The annual event has been a nonpartisan event even in years when its sponsor — an Arlington-based Christian group called the Fellowship Foundation, also known as The Family — made headlines for its role in various members’ scandals. The organization itself has also come under scrutiny from both journalists and law enforcement.

Most notably, the FBI said that a leader of the group let Russian operatives invite guests to the high-powered breakfast. TYT reported last year that an affiliate organization reported making expenditures related to the Russians’ attendance.

The Family was also the subject of a 2019 Netflix documentary series based on the work of journalist and author Jeff Sharlet.

In response to TYT’s reporting — which also revealed that the group sponsored congressional travel including meetings with anti-LGBTQ and anti-Semitic leaders in Europe — Reps. Ro Khanna (D-CA) and Ted Lieu (D-CA) said they did not expect to attend last year.

At the time, Khanna told TYT he wanted to “make sure there are not any special interests or foreign influences on the event.” Lieu’s chief of staff, Marc Cevasco, said, “If there’s Russian influence on the Prayer Breakfast, we want to know about it.”

Asked about the partisan disparity at this year's event, National Prayer Breakfast Media Representative Larry Ross told TYT, “In terms of which Members are listed on the invitation, beyond the co-chair signatories, it is not based on party affiliation but at the discretion of the Member himself or herself, and generally includes individuals who regularly attend the weekly House and Senate Prayer Groups.”

Of 14 Democrats listed on last year’s invitation, only five appear on this year’s: Sens. Chris Coons (D-DE) and Tom Carper (D-DE), and Reps. Charlie Crist (D-FL), Bobby Scott (D-VA), and Juan Vargas (D-CA).

The 2020 National Prayer Breakfast invitation (bottom) reflects a growing disparity in the number of Democrats and Republicans hosting the annual event.

(Images: Screengrabs from social media.)

Coons last year told TYT he was “concerned about the perception that [the breakfast] is a partisan event.”

Long-time Family leader Doug Coe maintained personal relationships with high-powered politicians, from presidents on down, of both parties. Since Coe’s death in 2017, it has been less clear who is running the group.

Delaware poultry magnate Ron Cameron, a past Fellowship Foundation board member, has been a substantial donor to the Family. Doug Burleigh has been a Russia liaison for the group for decades and was the pivotal figure involved in Russian attendance at the breakfast.

Both men are open Trump supporters. Burleigh appeared on video defending Trump against the media.

Cameron, meanwhile, is a reliable GOP megadonor who watched the 2018 election returns at the White House with Trump. That year, Cameron was an early and significant backer of a successful effort to unseat Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), a Family stalwart whose wife at one point sat on the group’s board.

As TYT reported, Cameron’s political spending has targeted Democrats around the country — except for Coons and Carper, both of whom belonged to the Senate’s poultry industry caucus. Another member of the chicken caucus, Sen. John Boozman (R-AR), co-chaired the 2017 breakfast with Coons and hails from Arkansas, where Cameron and is company are based.

Most of the annual event's new Democratic hosts are relative newcomers to Congress. This year’s breakfast co-chair, Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY), took office in 2017, as did fellow breakfast hosts Reps. Val Demings (D-FL) and Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE).

The invitation includes some new Democratic names that are not terribly surprising, but reflect the shrinking presence of progressives: Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Doug Jones (D-AL), and Joe Manchin (D-WV).

Aside from Klobuchar, hosts of the 2019 breakfast who do not appear on this year’s invitation include Heidi Heitkamp, who lost her Senate seat last year, and Angus King, the independent Maine senator who caucuses with Democrats.

The only 2019 Republicans not listed, but still in office, are Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) and Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS). Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) resigned last year, but appears on this year’s invitation.

Also still on the letterhead is Rep. Bob Aderholt (R-AL), who was revealed by the FBI to have met with lobbyists secretly working for Paul Manafort. TYT reported that Aderholt also met with Manafort’s oligarch clients while in Ukraine during a trip paid for by The Family.

TYT emailed this year’s hosts for comment regarding their participation in light of The Family’s activities. Most did not respond.

Demings Communications Director Daniel Gleick provided a statement from her, in which she said, “Two weeks after I was sworn in to Congress in 2017, I inquired about a possible prayer group. Prayer has always been a regular part of my life and I knew I would not only need prayer more than ever as a member of Congress but I wanted to pray for others. I was told about the bipartisan Thursday morning group. After attending several meetings, I was asked by the Republican and Democratic coordinators of the prayer group to give the closing Prayer at the National Prayer Breakfast. I agreed. This year I was asked to serve as a host. I also agreed. The Thursday morning prayer group has been a blessing to me and has allowed me to pray for families across the nation and around the world. I am a woman of faith, and as an African American female, I am all too familiar with the pain of discrimination. I support inclusion of all people regardless of race, gender, socio-economic status, or sexual orientation.”

Ross, the Family spokesperson, said, “We believe it is more important today than ever for people of faith to come together in a spirit of unity to pray for America and its leadership, as well [as] the more than 135 nations of the world represented by those in attendance. The National Prayer Breakfast provides a place for Democrats, Republicans, liberals, conservatives and people of all faiths to gather around the person of Jesus of Nazareth and the loving, servant leadership principles that He taught and lived.”

Jonathan Larsen is TYT’s managing editor. You can find him on Twitter @JTLarsen.

If you have tips on this subject or others you can contact us using Proton Mail at [email protected]. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube to stay on top of exclusive news stories from The Young Turks.

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