Brian Beutler has some further information on why John Boehner declined an invitation to come to Tucson on Air Force One last night. Boehner’s staff doesn’t deny that he spent at least part of his night in Washington at a reception for RNC Chair hopeful Maria Cino, who he has endorsed (according to them, that lasted only a few minutes and ended before Obama’s speech started). But, they add, there was also an earlier event:

Yesterday, House members attended a vigil for victims of the Arizona shooting spree in an auditorium underneath the Capitol Visitor’s Center. As they trickled in, a House aide provided reporters, including me, a glimpse of the program of events and list of speakers. There was one small revision to the schedule, though: Minority Whip Steny Hoyer would be reading Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s portion of scripture, because she was on her way to Tucson with the President.

If Boehner had accepted the invitation, then the leaders of both parties would have missed the Wednesday vigil.

Presented with this recollection of events, Boehner’s spokesman Michael Steel confirmed, and defended his boss. “Boehner would not have been able to attend the bipartisan prayer service if he’d gone to Tucson,” he said. “Yesterday, 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.”

This happened in the afternoon, and technically Boehner could have found transportation to get to Arizona in time. He chose not to.

If Boehner valued attending that vigil more than going to Tucson with the President, so be it. But shouldn’t SOME member of the House leadership have attended last night? The home-state Republican Senators and a handful of Republican House members from Arizona were in attendance, but nobody from the leadership of the branch of government controlled by Republicans. I just think that’s a major error. If Boehner wanted to attend that vigil so badly, couldn’t Eric Cantor have been dispatched to Tucson? Kevin McCarthy? Jeb Hensarling?

The criticism Boehner is receiving is entirely self-inflicted. He had an opportunity to make a statement on behalf of his party about national unity in the face of unspeakable violence, and he punted. Clearly he should have known how that would look: petty and disrespectful. And that’s regardless of the extenuating circumstances.

Could it be that he was actually afraid of committing the House GOP to standing with the President, lest he get blowback from his political base?