John Lewis, a congressman from Georgia and a Civil Rights icon, died at the age of 80 on July 17. According to his biography, he was referred to as “the conscience of the U.S. Congress,” and he was often outspoken about behavior and actions from the commander-in-chief that he disliked, often leading to feuds between him and Trump.
Trump, according to an Associated Press, offered his condolences following a round of golf and more than 14 hours after Lewis’ death was announced.
The two men often butted heads constantly – and publicly. Here are five times over the years that the late Rep. Lewis criticized Donald Trump:
1. Lewis Boycotted Trump’s Inauguration
On the ABC morning show, “The View,” Lewis boycotted Trump’s inauguration and told the hosts that he believed Martin Luther King Jr. would have done the same thing in his position, according to an ABC news report. “I couldn’t be at home with myself if I had to participate or be part of [Trump’s inauguration],” Lewis said on the show. “The movement told us to withdraw from evil.”
Lewis also earned the president’s ire when he told Chuck Todd, host of NBC News’ “Meet the Press,” that he did not believe Trump was a legitimate president because Russian interference helped him win the election. “I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected. And they helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton,” Lewis told NBC News.
REMINDER: While John Lewis was alive, Trump viciously attacked him, saying that Lewis – who put his life on the line for civil rights – was "all talk, no action."
All the Republicans issuing statements today were silent pic.twitter.com/gMbqxfhJnt
— Judd Legum (@JuddLegum) July 18, 2020
In response, Trump wrote a series of tweets telling Lewis that he “should finally focus on the burning and crime infested inner-cities of the U.S. I can use all the help I can get!” In another tweet thread, Trump said, “Congressman John Lewis should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to…… (1/2) mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results. All talk, talk, talk – no action or results. Sad! (2/2).”
2. Lewis Called Trump ‘A Racist’
In 2018, an explosive Washington Post report came out from an internal White House meeting in which a source alleged that Trump referred to Haiti and other African countries as “s**thole countries.”
CNN reported that when Senator Dick Durbin was asking about Haitian immigration, Trump responded by saying. “Why do we want all these people from ‘shithole countries’ coming here?” According to CNN, Raj Shah, a spokesperson for the White House said that Trump “is fighting for permanent solutions that make our country stronger by welcoming those who can contribute to our society, grow our economy and assimilate into our great nation,” but did not confirm or deny that he made the statement.
Trump’s alleged comments drew backlash from most of the Democratic party, a few Republicans and especially from Lewis who, in an interview with George Stephanopoulos on “This Week,” said that he believed Trump was a racist.
“I think he is a racist,” he said, adding, “We have to stand up, we have to speak up and not try to sweep it under the rug,” when Stephanopolous asked what the country should do in response.
….and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run. Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 14, 2019
The tweet told four congresswomen of color to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came,” which the Washington Post described as his variation of a racist trope which dates back several decades.
“I know racism when I see it. I know racism when I feel it. And at the highest level of our government, there’s no room for racism,” Lewis said on the House floor.
3. Lewis Voted To Impeach Trump
Lewis was one of more than 200 Democratic House members who voted in favor of articles of impeachment against Trump in December of 2019.
Lewis also gave a speech during the House’s impeachment debate, in which he compelled other members of Congress to vote for impeachment because it was their “moral obligation.”
This is a sad day. It is not a day of joy. Our nation is founded on the principle that we do not have kings. We have presidents. And the constitution is our compass. When you see something that is not right, not just, not fair, you have a moral obligation to say something, to do something. Our children and their children will ask us what did you do? What did you say? For some this vote may be hard. But we have a mission and a mandate to be on the right side of history. I yield back the balance of my time.
4. Lewis Condemned Trump for Threatening To Use the U.S. Military During Protests
“He saw those demonstrations, the largest protest movement in American history, as a continuation of his life’s work, though his illness had left him to watch from the sidelines.” https://t.co/blJGosC2VA
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) July 18, 2020
Lewis’ role leading the march on Bloody Sunday across the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, Alabama, was legendary. At the age of 25, he was marching when he was knocked down and beaten by police, leading his skull to become fractured, the Chicago Tribune reported.
It was with that background in mind that Lewis condemned Trump’s threat to use military force to prevent protests demanding an end to police brutality and end racial inequity to last later than 7 p.m.
In an interview with CBS This Morning, Lewis said that he believed that would be a “serious mistake.”
“I think it would be a serious mistake on the part of President Trump to use the military to stop orderly, peaceful, nonviolent protests … You cannot stop the call of history. You may use troopers, you may use firehoses and water, but it cannot be stopped. There cannot be any turning back. We’ve come too far, made too much progress, to stop now or to go back. The world is seeing what is happening, and we are ready to continue to move forward.
5. Lewis Backed Biden In His Bid for Presidency
I know of no man with more courage than John Lewis. He was a giant walking among us. When I saw him, I couldn’t help but think one thing: “I haven’t done enough.” May his life and legacy inspire every one of us to strive for justice, equality and what is right. pic.twitter.com/jtoCnmjexz
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) July 18, 2020
In April of 2020, Lewis announced that he was backing former vice president to Barack Obama and current presidential candidate Joe Biden. According to VOA News, the endorsement represented “perhaps his biggest symbolic endorsement among the many veteran black lawmakers who back his candidacy.”
Lewis urged people to vote “like we’ve never voted before” and also urged youth to support Biden, saying “I would say to young people that it’s my hope that you will not be beaten or arrested or jailed. Let’s go out and vote and help elect a man of conscience, a man who would look out for each and every one of us and help build a society where no one would be left out or left behind because of their race or their color of their skin or their gender.” CNN also reported that Lewis encouraged Biden to choose a woman of color as his running mate.
In hearing about his death, Biden wrote a statement that The Hill reported, wherein he described Lewis as a man of hope and courage:
John was that hero for so many people of every race and station, including us. He absorbed the force of human nature’s cruelty during the course of his life, and the only thing that could finally stop him was cancer. But he was not bitter … His voice still commanded respect and his laugh was still full of joy. Instead of answering our concerns for him, he asked about us. He asked us to stay focused on the work left undone to heal this nation. He was himself – a man at peace, of dignity, grace and character.