Rep. Janice Hahn just wanted to hear evangelist Billy Graham's daughter speak at Thursday's National Day of Prayer gathering on Capitol Hill, but she ended up storming out of the room before that portion of the program could get underway.
The California Democrat said she was appalled by the remarks of Dr. James Dobson, saying she felt he went against the event's stated nonpartisan and apolitical intent by bashing Barack Obama and calling him the "abortion president."
"We have this annual, national day of prayer, which is supposed to bring the whole country together to pray for our nation, and typically you put politics aside and you come together," Hahn told CQ Roll Call. "James Dobson just absolutely violated that, and I really think he did damage to what we try to do up here in Washington, D.C."
Dobson, the founder of the conservative group Focus on the Family and host of the radio talk show "Family Talk," told those assembled in the Cannon Caucus Room that Obama's promotion of policies forcing taxpayers to fund abortion services was "offensive to [his] very conscience."
"Before [Obama] was elected, he made it very clear that he wanted to be the abortion president," said Dobson, whose remarks were captured in a video featured on WND.com . "He didn't make any bones about it, that this is something that he really going to promote and support. And he has done that. And in a sense, he is the abortion president."
Hahn recalled that Dobson prefaced his commentary by saying this was the first time in all his years participating in the National Day of Prayer that he had felt compelled to make reference to his own politics, and she described his speech as a "10- or 15-minute rant against President Obama."
After trying to rally support from other people sitting in her row, Hahn said she'd had enough.
"Finally, I couldn't take it anymore," she said. "I stood up and pointed my finger at [Dobson] and said, 'This is completely inappropriate for this day,' and I walked out."
The National Day of Prayer is typically held on the first Thursday of May; since its inception every president, regardless of faith or party affiliation, has issued a proclamation in support of the occasion. A spokesman for the National Day of Prayer did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding Thursday's incident, but the official website states that it is not a "political event" affiliated with any party, position or religious ideology.
"The National Day of Prayer, as designated by our government, belongs to all Americans," the NDP website declares. "It is not sponsored or owned by any one group. Every American can observe the NDP in his or her own way."
The page also includes a disclaimer noting that although NDP Task Force Chairwoman Shirley Dobson is the wife of James Dobson, the event is in no way affiliated with Focus on the Family or "Family Talk." Dobson left Focus on the Family in 2009.
But for Hahn, James Dobson's actions struck a painful chord.
"I'm the co-chair of the weekly Congressional Prayer Breakfast," she explained. "I was the co-chair this year of the National Prayer Breakfast. And I work so hard at putting my politics aside every week and coming together with members of Congress I don't agree with, but we find an hour a week where we put politics aside and pray for our country, and so far, it's worked. ... I was so upset today I felt like abandoning everything I've done to try to be bipartisan."
Hahn said she has calmed down a bit since then and is considering bringing up the issue with her colleagues who regularly attend the weekly prayer breakfasts. "I would hope maybe members of the Congressional Prayer Breakfast consider writing [Dobson] and tell him that what he did really goes against what we've been trying to do in weekly in our prayer breakfast," she said.
She might run into some disagreement with her co-chairman, conservative Republican Louie Gohmert of Texas, whom Hahn said she considers a "friend" despite the fact that she considers him her "political opposite."
Gohmert told CQ Roll Call in a brief hallway interview on Thursday afternoon that he was familiar with Dobson's remarks and Hahn's frustration.
"I can understand Janice's position and as co-chairman of the National Prayer Breakfast, which every president has attended, we work really hard to keep politics completely out of that," Gohmert said.
He said he also felt for Dobson, whose religious beliefs and stance on abortion are inseparable. "I can also well understand Dr. Dobson's frustration because it is their belief that assisting in any way, including providing funding, for abortion, is a sin. It's not something that he should support and so he felt like this was a good time to let people know what he was going through. So I understand that."