WASHINGTON — President-elect Trump lashed out at Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), his district and the civil-rights activist’s history after NBC aired an interview with Lewis calling Trump an illegitimate president.
“I believe in forgiveness. I believe in trying to work with people. It will be hard. It’s going to be very difficult. I don’t see this president-elect as a legitimate president,” Lewis said in the interview on Meet the Press. “I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected and they helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton. I don’t plan to attend the inauguration. It will be the first one that I’ll miss since I’ve been at Congress. You cannot be at home with something that you feel that it’s wrong.”
Lewis, one of the Big Six civil-rights era leaders who was a keynote speaker at the March on Washington in 1963 and was arrested more than 40 times in protests to end segregation, was elected to Congress in 1987. In 1961, Lewis was beaten at a South Carolina bus station when the Freedom Riders stopped. His assailant, former Ku Klux Klan member Elwin Wilson, came forward in 2009 to seek Lewis’ forgiveness; the two became friends and Lewis mourned Wilson’s passing in 2013.
His Atlanta congressional district includes the affluent Buckhead district, Emory University, Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Georgia Tech and the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Beginning Saturday, Trump tweeted, “Congressman John Lewis should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results. All talk, talk, talk – no action or results. Sad!”
Trump later tweeted: “Congressman John Lewis should finally focus on the burning and crime infested inner-cities of the U.S. I can use all the help I can get!”
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution led its front page this morning with the headline “ATLANTA TO TRUMP: WRONG,” along with a story highlighting district Census statistics, including a lower poverty rate than the national average, nearly 9 in 10 residents possessing a high school degree or higher, 40 percent having at least a bachelor’s degree, and the majority of residents working in “management, business, science, and arts occupations.”
GOP Sen. Ben Sasse (Neb.), who had asked Lewis to reconsider ditching the inauguration, tweeted at Trump, “John Lewis and his ‘talk’ have changed the world.” Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) tweeted at the president-elect, “Dude, just stop.”
Incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus told NBC that Lewis’ comments were “irresponsible,” and “just because he’s a civil rights leader and someone that I respect as a civil rights leader and someone that, you know, I went to Selma with him and many others a few years ago, it doesn’t excuse the fact that his statement was not responsible, and it’s not right, and it’s too bad because President-elect Trump’s going to be a great president and this country elected him in an electoral landslide and it’s a shame.”
Lewis told NBC that perhaps “by going to Selma like President Bush, President Clinton, President Obama, maybe [Trump] would learn something. Maybe he would get religion.”
Asked if he would invite Trump to Selma, Lewis replied, “I would not invite him to come. I wouldn’t try to prevent him from coming.”
Asked what MLK would say about this moment, Lewis said: “Dr. King would say to all of us, to never give up, never become bitter, be hopeful, be optimistic and keep pushing.”
Vice-President elect Pence told CBS this morning that “to hear John Lewis, a man that I served with, that I respect, to question the legitimacy of the election and to say that Donald Trump will not be a legitimate president was deeply disappointing to me and also to hear that he was not going to today the inauguration this Friday — I hope he reconsiders both statements.”
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) told CNN this morning that because Lewis is “a civil rights icon shouldn’t make him immune” from criticism. “I have worked with John Lewis, met him several times, have worked with many members of the Black Caucus and many progressive Democrats, frankly, on the idea of criminal justice reform,” Paul said. “So, I think I have a good relationship with him.”
“…I would say that, instead of this bickering back and forth, what I would like to find out is how we can still do criminal justice reform. And I have been talking to Democrats about how we get more Republicans on board. I was disappointed we didn’t get it through, you know, when President Obama was in.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said she understands where Lewis is coming from. “This is a very fearful and divided nation right now. And the Trumps have not done anything to bring it together,” she told CBS. “I really regret the president-elect’s response to what John Lewis said. It’s without understanding of his history, of what he went through, of the fact that this is Martin Luther King weekend.”