Aug 3, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Exclusive: Trump declines to praise John Lewis, citing inauguration snub

President Trump dismissed the legacy of the late Rep. John Lewis in an interview with “Axios on HBO,” saying only that Lewis made a “big mistake” by not coming to his inauguration.

The big picture: Trump's comments were a glaring contrast with the praise Republicans and Democrats showered upon Lewis this week, and a default to personal grudges during a week of mourning for a civil rights hero.

Driving the news: In the interview with Axios’ Jonathan Swan, Trump said, “I really don't know” how history will remember the Democratic congressman. “I don't know John Lewis. He chose not to come to my inauguration. ... I never met John Lewis, actually, I don’t believe.”

  • When asked if he found Lewis’ life impressive, Trump responded, “He didn't come to my inauguration. He didn't come to my State of the Union speeches. And that's OK. That's his right. And, again, nobody has done more for Black Americans than I have.”
  • “He should have come. I think he made a big mistake.”
  • Trump also declined to say whether he found Lewis personally impressive: “I can't say one way or the other. I find a lot of people impressive. I find many people not impressive.”

Context: The interview took place last Tuesday as Lewis was lying in state at the Capitol.

Between the lines: Lewis had made it clear what he thought of Trump. In 2017, he said he didn’t see Trump as a "legitimate president" because he believed Russia helped Trump get elected.

  • And in the documentary “John Lewis: Good Trouble,” released shortly before his death, Lewis said, “My greatest fear is that one day we might wake up and our democracy is gone.”

Yet Lewis’ accomplishments for civil rights brought virtually all other Republicans and Democrats together in mourning this week, as they paid tribute to the man whose nonviolent activism helped secure the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965.

  • Former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton all spoke at Lewis’ funeral in Atlanta on Thursday, with Obama delivering the eulogy.
  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell quoted Martin Luther King Jr.’s statement that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice” in his tribute to Lewis at the Capitol. “History only bent toward what’s right because people like John paid the price to help bend it,” McConnell said.

Trump did allow that he wouldn’t object to the petition to rename the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama — where Lewis and hundreds of other peaceful marchers were beaten in 1965 — after Lewis.

  • “I would have no objection to it, if they'd like to do it, would have no objection to it whatsoever,” Trump said.
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