Scripture, foreign dignitaries, and rare bipartisan unity in Washington
President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden attended the 62nd annual prayer breakfast Thursday morning in Washington. Every president since Dwight Eisenhower has joined the gathering, traditionally hosted the first Thursday in February at the Washington Hilton (also where President Ronald Reagan was shot and where the annual White House Correspondents dinner is held). This year, the focus was bipartisanship at home and ending extreme poverty abroad. Here’s what you missed.
Prayers Prayed. Lots. It is a prayer breakfast after all.
Unity Displayed. Rep. Janice Hahn (D-Calif.) and Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) co-chaired this year’s breakfast. It’s about the only thing they agree on, and as Gohmert pointed out, it was probably the only time you will ever see Hahn to his right on anything—because that’s where she was seated.
Foreign Dignitaries Present. President of Albania Bujar Nishani and President of Haiti Michel Martelly. Martelly has a bilateral meeting with Obama in the Oval Office on Thursday afternoon.
Scripture Read. Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) read the famous “for everything there is a season, a time to be born and a time to die, a time to weep and a time to laugh…a time to love, a time to hate” passage from the Hebrew text of Ecclesiastes. Bethany Hamilton, an evangelical surfer who lost her left arm to a shark, read the Good Samaritan passage from the gospel of Luke and Paul’s letter to the Ephesians about how wide and long and deep and high the love of Christ is.
Best lines: Ray LaHood, Obama’s former Secretary of Transportation, got the first giant smile from the president with his crack, “Louie Gohmert has been transformed…let’s hope this miracle continues beyond the 9:30 hour.” Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), noted how it is much easier to overcome partisan fights in Congress when you are holding hands praying and singing. Keynote speaker Rajiv Shah, the USAID Administrator, told of how his car got stuck in the mud when he was visiting Ethiopia with Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.). The senator, Shah said, suggested that “everyone under 70 should get out and push,” leaving Shah “covered in mud again because of Congress.”
Most Poignant Moment. Shah sobered up the house with a story of his trip to a Somali refugee camp with Jill Biden two years ago. They met a mother who, desperate to escape the famine, alternated carrying each of her two children until they all became so weak and she knew she could only carry one. “She looked down at her two children and she said a prayer—then she made the excruciating decision to leave one of them behind so she could save the other,” he recalled. “Were they somehow lesser than our sons and daughters? Did their fathers love them less? Did their mothers? Did God?” Let that one sink in.
Noticeably Absent. Talk of immigration reform. Health care. Little Sisters of the Poor. Immigration reform. Health care. Hobby Lobby.
Name Dropped. By the president: Kenneth Bae, American missionary held captive in North Korea since October, and US pastor Saeed Abedini, Idaho pastor imprissoned in Iran for 18 months. By Shah: Pope Francis, for shining a “bright light” on poverty.
Mystery Policy. Obama’s “men of color” mentorship initiative line from the State of the Union popped up again.
Noted. Obama wanted to clarify that his surfing is not very good. Body surfing, he explained, was more his specialty.
Over and out until next year.