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GOP leader headed to Selma after all

Watch live coverage of ceremonies in Selma commemorating 50 years since "Bloody Sunday" starting at 11 a.m. ET Saturday on CNN and CNNgo.

Washington (CNN)Update - 6:55 p.m. - House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy will now go to Selma Saturday to join in the 50th anniversary events.

McCarthy tells CNN he considers John Lewis a close friend, and wants to be there to commemorate the historic anniversary.
McCarthy has been to Selma in the past, and he and Lewis worked together to show the movie Selma to all lawmakers in a Capitol auditorium.
    Original post:
    Top Republican leaders on Capitol Hill won't join the largest bipartisan congressional delegation ever in Selma, Alabama, this weekend to mark the 50th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday civil rights march.
    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker John Boehner, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise will not be on hand for the celebration, according to spokesmen for McConnell and Boehner.
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    Asked about McConnell's plans this weekend, spokesman Don Stewart said "he'll be back home as he is most weekends."
    Boehner's office would not release the speaker's schedule in advance for security reasons. But when Congress is out for more than a week, as it is right now, Boehner typically attends political events around the country.
    Spokesmen for McCarthy and Scalise did not return requests for comment, though Boehner spokesman Michael Steel confirmed that no one from the top GOP leadership will be in Selma.
    The absence of key GOP lawmakers at such a significant anniversary is notable for a party that is seeking to expand its base. It comes just months after third-ranking House Republican Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana was embroiled in a controversy over speaking to a group of white supremacists in 2002 and as efforts to revive key provisions of the Voting Rights Act have stalled in Congress.
    Politico first reported that GOP leaders won't attend the event.
    President Barack Obama, along with his wife and daughters, will be in Selma on Saturday's anniversary, as will former President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush.
    It's worth noting that not all top Democrats are planning to be in Selma either.
    House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is going, according to her spokesman, and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer and Caucus Chair Xavier Becerra will also be there, said Rep. John Lewis, the Georgia Democrat who was a leader of the Bloody Sunday march and is heading up the congressional delegation. South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, the No. 3 House Democrat, is also going.
    But Sen Minority Leader Harry Reid is not going as he recovers from eye surgery, his office said. The second and third ranking Senate Democrats -- Dick Durbin of Illinois and Chuck Schumer of New York -- also won't attend, according to their spokesmen.
    On Wednesday, Lewis told CNN 96 members were expected on the chartered flight to Selma and some 15 to 20 more were planning to meet up in Birmingham and Selma, calling it "the largest group ever."
    At least two dozen Republicans were expected to be part of that group, according to a congressional staffer.
    Asked if he was disappointed more Republicans weren't making the trip, Lewis said, "no, we continue to work and continue to build, we cannot become disappointed."
    He said it "certainly" would be helpful to have leaders there to further the discussion on the Democrats' efforts to push for voting protections.
    "We will not give up on anyone," Lewis said.
    Top House leaders have gone to the annual event before. McCarthy traveled to Selma in 2012 when he was the No. 3 House Republican and then-Majority Leader Eric Cantor attended in 2013. Cantor, who had been a key Republican supporter of efforts to update the Voting Rights Act in the last Congress, lost his primary in 2014.
    On the same day last month that the House voted to approve a congressional gold medal for Selma marchers, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), both members of the House Judiciary Committee, introduced the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2015, a bill aimed at updating and strengthening the law.
    In 2013, the Supreme Court overturned a key provision of the Voting Rights Act that required certain states with a history of racial discrimination at the polls to "pre-clear" any changes to the law with the federal government before implementing them.
    But there is no indication that House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) plans to take up the legislation to update the law. At a Christian Science Monitor breakfast in January, he said he believed the Voting Rights Act was sufficient as it stands.
    "We have continued to study this issue, but to this point, we have not seen a process forward that is necessary to protect people, because we think the Voting Rights Act is providing substantial protection in this area right now," Goodlatte said.
    Stewart noted that a delegation of Republican senators is planning to attend, led by Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina and including Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions and Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, who is a member of the leadership team in the Senate, serving as counselor to McConnell.
    And as for Republican potential presidential hopefuls -- none of them will be in Selma either. Sen. Rand Paul's (R-Kent.) office said he will be in Kentucky. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) will be in Iowa participating in an agricultural summit and Sen. Marco Rubio's office did not respond to questions about where he would be this weekend, except to say that he was not traveling to Selma.
    Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said that while the speaker will not be in Selma to mark Bloody Sunday, he was looking forward to granting those who marched to Montgomery Congress' highest civilian honor.
    "Speaker Boehner was proud last month when the House passed legislation awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to the civil rights marchers in Selma 50 years ago, and will be proud to welcome them to a ceremony in the Capitol to bestow this honor," Steel said.
    Both the House and Senate passed legislation in February to grant the awards.