President-elect Donald Trump lashed out Saturday at a prominent civil rights icon and lawmaker who said he is skipping next week’s inauguration ceremony because he sees the New York businessman’s election as illegitimate.
Trump aimed his latest Twitter blast at longtime congressman John Lewis and the majority-black district in Georgia he represents, drawing widespread criticism just days before the holiday honoring the slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. Lewis, whose district includes Atlanta and surrounding areas, on Friday became the highest-profile Democratic lawmaker to boycott Trump’s inauguration.
“I don’t see this president-elect as a legitimate president,” he told NBC’s Meet the Press talk show in an interview on Friday.
Trump fired back at him early on Saturday. “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,” Trump said on Twitter. “All talk, talk, talk—no action or results. Sad!”
He followed up later in the evening with a tweet repeating his campaign theme that African-Americans are living in desperately grim inner-city areas where they lack education and jobs. Lewis “should finally focus on the burning and crime infested inner-cities of the U.S.,” he said. “I can use all the help I can get!”
Known for his decades of work in the civil rights movement, Lewis, 76, marched with King at the August 1963 rally in Washington at which King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. The son of sharecroppers, Lewis took part in the Freedom Rides—challenges to segregated facilities at bus terminals in the South.
On March 7, 1965, he led a march in Selma, Alabama that ended in an attack by state troopers on the protesters that later became known as “Bloody Sunday.”
At least 16 House Democrats have publicly stated they will not be attending Trump’s swearing-in at the U.S. Capitol next Friday, with several indicating their absence will be an act of political protest—but Lewis is the most prominent.
In his interview with NBC, he cited what he called Russian interference in the Nov. 8 election as his reason for skipping the presidential inauguration for the first time since becoming a member of Congress in 1987. “I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected. And they helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton,” he told the network in the interview, which aired in full on Sunday.
U.S. intelligence organizations have accused Russia of cyber-attacks on the Democratic National Committee and distributing hacked emails from senior Clinton aides in an effort to influence the U.S. election. Trump has acknowledged that Moscow likely meddled in the election, but has staunchly refuted any notion that it helped him defeat Clinton.
Lewis earned a flood of support from Democratic colleagues—and a few Republicans—on Twitter. “Ahead of #MLKDay2017, let us remember that many have tried to silence @repjohnlewis over the years. All have failed,” House Democratic minority leader Nancy Pelosi said. “Rep. John Lewis was beaten, bloodied & arrested 40+ times marching for civil rights,” Senator Chris Coons of Delaware wrote. “He is a true American hero and represents the best of us.”
“Is this really happening?” Rhode Island Representative David Cicilline said. “The incoming president is attacking an American civil rights icon during Martin Luther King Jr. weekend?”
Without directly denouncing Trump’s comments, Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska linked to a photo of Lewis at a civil rights march, with the message, “John Lewis and his ‘talk’ have changed the world.”
Some 2,000 demonstrators, the majority of them black, marched in Washington on Saturday to the park near the Martin Luther King Memorial in the city’s first major protest ahead of Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration. Some chanted, “We will not be Trumped.”
“We won’t go back,” said civil rights leader Al Sharpton, calling on marchers to fight to defend the accomplishments of Barack Obama’s eight years in the White House. “We want this nation to understand what has been fought for and gained,” he added. “You are going to need more than one election to turn it around.”
Many of those gathered expressed pessimism about the incoming Trump administration. Valerie Williams, a black woman who had traveled to the nation’s capital from New York for the march, told AFP she fears that for the next four years, “nobody in the government is going to have my concerns at heart.”
“Unfortunately when they elected Obama president, black people mistakenly thought that meant that this country was more tolerant of different races,” she said. “But we saw over the past eight years that it just made some people that were probably inherently racist upset, and all those people came bubbling to the top.”
Hundreds of thousands of Americans are preparing to demonstrate nationwide as Trump prepares to take office, most notably at the Women’s March on Washington the day after the inauguration. Organizers say that event could attract some 200,000 people.