WASHINGTON – When U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., said he didn’t see Donald Trump as a “legitimate president,” it wasn’t out of character.
After 37 years in Congress, that kind of rhetoric is in keeping with a highly partisan record of accusing all Republican presidential candidates of racism as well as calling for the impeachment of George W. Bush.
Almost glossed over in Lewis’ questioning of Trump’s legitimacy was his reasoning.
“I don’t see this president-elect as a legitimate president,” Lewis told NBC News’ Chuck Todd in a clip released Friday. “I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected. And they helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton. I think there was a conspiracy on the part of the Russians, and others, that helped him get elected.”
His reason Trump isn’t a legitimate president-elect, according to Lewis, is because the Russians helped elect him. To date, not a single shred of evidence to suggest Russian hacking had any impact on the outcome of the election. Indeed, as Democrats are fond of pointing out, Clinton won the popular election. She merely failed to win the prerequisite number of electoral votes of the states.
Lewis’ comments are not only conspiratorial and divisive, they also question the legitimacy of the nation’s electoral process and the integrity of the vote.
But such partisan rhetorical overkill has come naturally to Lewis throughout his public life.
He characteristically demanded the impeachment of George W. Bush for authorizing the National Security Agency to conduct wiretaps without a warrant. When Barack Obama did the same thing, Lewis didn’t even offer criticism.
Here are some other famous but forgotten slurs from Lewis in recent years:
- Just last week, in Senate testimony on the confirmation of Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., he suggested he might be another George Wallace, the late racist governor of the state: “It doesn’t matter how Senator Sessions may smile, how friendly he may be, how he may speak to you. We need someone who is going to stand up, to speak up, and speak out for the people that need help. For people who have been discriminated against. and it doesn’t matter if they’re black, white, Latino, Asian American, or Native American. Whether they are straight or gay, Muslim, Christian, or Jews. We all live in the same house, the American house. We need someone as attorney general who is going to look out for all of us, not just some of us. We can pretend the law is blind. We can pretend it is evenhanded. But if we are honest with ourselves we know we are called upon daily by the people we represent to help them deal with unfairness in how the law is written and enforced. Those who are committed to equal justice in our society wonder whether Senator Sessions’ calls for law and order will mean today what it meant it Alabama when I was coming up back then. The rule of law was used to violate the human and civil rights of the poor, the dispossessed, people of color.”
- In the wake of the mass shooting that took place on June 12, 2016, in Orlando, Florida, Lewis led a sit-in comprised of approximately 40 House Democrats on the floor of the House of Representatives on June 22 in an attempt to bring attention and force Congress to pass stricter gun-control legislation. “We have been too quiet for too long,” Lewis said. “There comes a time when you have to say something. You have to make a little noise. You have to move your feet. This is the time.”
- In the 2008 presidential election, Lewis suggested Republican John McCain also represented a throwback to George Wallace, who Lewis seems to forget was a member of his party: “What I am seeing reminds me too much of another destructive period in American history. Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin are sowing the seeds of hatred and division, and there is no need for this hostility in our political discourse. George Wallace never threw a bomb. He never fired a gun, but he created the climate and the conditions that encouraged vicious attacks against innocent Americans who were simply trying to exercise their constitutional rights. Because of this atmosphere of hate, four little girls were killed on Sunday morning when a church was bombed in Birmingham, Alabama.”
- He also played the race card against Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in 2012, claiming if elected he would bring back segregation: “I’ve seen this before, I lived this before,” he claimed, after extensively describing his activism in Southern states in the 1950 and 1960s. “We were met by an angry mob that beat us and left us lying in a pool of blood. Brothers and sisters, do you want to go back? “Or do you want to keep America moving forward?”
- In 2010, he falsely accused tea-party demonstrators of using the “N-word” during an anti-Obamacare rally at the Capitol. Lewis joined several other members of the Congressional Black Caucus in claiming that a crowd of thousands of Tea Party protesters on the steps of Capitol Hill had shouted the “N-word” at them when they walked through the crowd. “It surprised me that people are so mean and we can’t engage in a civil dialogue and debate,” Lewis claimed. Yet, despite the fact that hundreds of phones and video cameras captured the event, not a single recording could be found to document the claim. The late Andrew Breitbart offered to donate $100,000 to the United Negro College Fund for any video evidence of the “N-word.” None ever surfaced.
- During the 2016 presidential campaign, Lewis revisited a familiar refrain when he compared Donald Trump to George Wallace. “I’ve been around a while and Trump reminds me so much of a lot of the things that George Wallace said and did … Sometimes I feel like I am reliving part of my past. I heard it so much growing up in the South…I heard it so much during the days of the civil-rights movement. As a people, I just think we could do much better.”
- During the 2016 primaries, Lewis went beyond partisanship in questioning the civil-rights credentials of Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., who was opposing Hillary Clinton in his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination: “I never saw him. I never met him,” Lewis said. Sanders, however, was arrested in civil-rights protests in Chicago.
- From the floor of the House on March 21, 1995 – four months after Republicans had won House and Senate majorities on the strength of their “Contract With America” – Lewis paraphrased the anti-Nazi pastor Martin Niemoller’s famous observations about the Nazi takeover: “They came first for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews … trade unionists … Catholics … Protestants …” Then Lewis said grimly: “Read the Republican contract. They are coming for the children. They are coming for the poor. They are coming for the sick, the elderly, and the disabled.”
Lewis has always been a firebrand, even during his civil-rights days as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He was the youngest speaker at the March on Washington in which Martin Luther King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Lewis’ prepared remarks had to be toned down for the event. Still, his speech called for “radical social, political and economic changes.”
“We all recognize the fact that if any radical social, political and economic changes are to take place in our society, the people, the masses, must bring them about.”
While Lewis is proud of his very liberal voting record in the House, he has also been friendly to socialist and communist causes throughout his career. A founding member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, formed with the help of the Democratic Socialists of America, from 1962-64, Lewis was a sponsor and vice chairman of a Communist Party USA front group known as the National Committee to Abolish the House Un-American Activities Committee.
At a 1965 banquet in Terre Haute, Indiana, Lewis was the first honoree of the annual Eugene Debs Award, named for the Socialist Party of America founder. That same year, Lewis wrote an article titled “Paul Robeson: Inspirer of Youth,” for the CPUSA propaganda magazine Freedomways. The piece lauded Robeson, who had been a CPUSA member and a devoted admirer of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, and stated that “we of SNCC are Paul Robeson’s spiritual children.”
In 1967 Lewis paid tribute to Norman Thomas, a six-time presidential candidate for the Socialist Party of America, as a man who “has symbolized to millions of Americans the ideals of peace, freedom and equality.”
In 1969, Lewis was listed as a sponsor of the GI Civil Liberties Defense Committee, an anti-U.S.-military organization dominated by the Socialist Workers Party.
In May 1973 Lewis was listed as a “sponsor” of “A Call” for a founding conference of the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, a CPUSA front.
When the Marxist Sandinista government of Nicaragua announced in October 1989 that it would no longer comply with a ceasefire agreement it had previously reached with the U.S.-backed Contra rebels, the House of Representatives voted 379-29 in favor of a resolution deploring the Sandinistas’ action; Lewis was one of the 29 Democrats who opposed the resolution.
In 1996, the Democratic Socialists of America Political Action Committee endorsed Lewis’s congressional campaign.
In August 2003 Lewis contributed an article to the CPUSA paper People’s Weekly World, titled “An Open letter to my Colleagues in Congress: Remembering the Legacy of Martin Luther King.”