Trump Slams John Lewis, Civil Rights Champion, as ‘All Talk’

Updated on
  • Georgia Congressman tells NBC he won’t attend inauguration
  • Trump expected to visit new museum Monday for MLK Day holiday

Donald Trump criticized African-American civil-rights leader John Lewis, who suffered a cracked skull while fighting for voting rights in the 1960s, as “all talk,” a day after the Georgia congressman said he doesn’t consider him “a legitimate president.”

In an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press With Chuck Todd” that will air in full on Sunday, Lewis said he doesn’t plan to attend Trump’s inauguration on Jan. 20, the first such swearing-in he’ll miss since being elected to Congress in 1986. About a dozen Democratic lawmakers have said they’ll skip the event.

Trump said in a pair of Twitter posts early Saturday that 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!”

The sharp exchange came two days before Monday’s Martin Luther King holiday in the U.S., honoring the slain civil-rights leader with whom Lewis worked closely in the 1960s. Lewis, 76, was the son of sharecroppers and attended segregated schools in Alabama, according to a biography on his website.

Trump returned Saturday evening with a more conciliatory message: “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!”

Lewis represents Georgia’s 5th Congressional district, which includes much of Atlanta and parts of neighboring suburbs. The district’s population is about 60 percent black and 32 percent white. Although the poverty rate of 17 percent is higher than that in some adjacent seats, according to U.S. Census figures, the district also includes the affluent Buckhead neighborhood, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), several major colleges and universities, and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the world’s busiest in terms of total passengers.

Selma Protest

While in his 20s Lewis led one of the pivotal events of the civil-rights era -- the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. On March 7, 1965, black protesters seeking voting rights were attacked by state troopers in Selma; Lewis’s skull was fractured in the melee, according to the National Park Service website. Photos and news footage of the event helped lead to the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Lewis told NBC that “Russians participated in helping this man get elected. And they helped destroy the candidacy” of Hillary Clinton, adding, “I don’t see this president-elect as a legitimate president.” Trump has repeatedly rejected suggestions that hacking by Russia or other actors helped him win the presidential election.

Supporters jumped to Lewis’s defense after Trump’s comments, and the hashtag #standwithjohnlewis trended on Twitter.

“Ahead of #MLKday 2017, let us remember that many have tried to silence @repjohnlewis over the years. All have failed,” House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a tweet.

‘Deserves Better’

Senator Kamala Harris, Democrat of California, said on Twitter that Lewis is “fearless in the pursuit of justice and equality. He deserves better than this.” Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, a Republican who’s been critical of Trump, said “John Lewis and his ‘talk’ have changed the world.”

Lewis’s congressional office didn’t respond to a request for additional comment.

Other Democrats who have said they’ll skip Trump’s inauguration include Representative Luis Gutierrez of Illinois and Representative Katherine Clark of Massachusetts. Joining them on Saturday was Representative Ted Lieu of California. “While I do not dispute that Trump won the Electoral College, I cannot normalize his behavior or the disparaging and un-American statements he has made,” Lieu said in a statement.

Museum Visit

The president-elect is expected to visit the new National Museum of African American History and Culture on Monday in observance of Martin Luther King Day, ABC News reported, citing people within Trump’s transition team. Lewis wrote the enabling legislation to create the museum on Washington’s National Mall, which opened in September.

Trump has a pattern of responding to criticism with posts on Twitter, where his followers now number almost 20 million.

On Jan. 9 the president-elect called Meryl Streep “one of the most over-rated actresses in Hollywood” and a “Hillary flunky” after comments she made about Trump at the Golden Globes award ceremony. In December he said a union boss in Indiana “has done a terrible job representing workers” after United Steelworkers’ Chuck Jones accused Trump of lying about how many jobs were saved from outsourcing at a Carrier air conditioning plant.