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The back-and-forth between President-elect Donald Trump and civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., dominated news coverage over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend.
It began on Jan. 14 with an excerpt from an interview that Lewis did for NBC’s Meet the Press, in which he said that while he believes in forgiveness, "it's going to be very difficult" to forge a relationship with Trump. "I don't see this president-elect as a legitimate president."
Trump quickly took to Twitter to criticize Lewis. In a pair of tweets, 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.....mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results. All talk, talk, talk - no action or results. Sad!"
Trump’s comments drew criticism for ignoring Lewis’s sacrifices in the 1960s civil rights movement and for mischaracterizing Lewis’ district. PolitiFact rated Trump’s assertions about the district Mostly False.
Lewis, for his part, also drew criticism (including from Democrats) for his characterization of Trump as someone who isn’t "a legitimate president." Lewis’ stance is not universal among Democrats. While the 40-plus Democrats who are skipping the inauguration is an unusually large number, they amount to a minority of the Democratic caucus in the House.
In his Meet the Press interview, Lewis underlined the importance of his concerns about Trump by saying, "It will be the first (inauguration) that I miss since I've been in Congress. You cannot be at home with something that you feel that is wrong, is not right."
Some readers asked us whether this was true. It turns out that it is not.
Lewis didn’t attend President George W. Bush’s inauguration in 2001. Bush prevailed after a weeks-long, controversy-laden recount that ended with a 5-4 Supreme Court decision.
A contemporary Washington Post article included this paragraph: "Some members of the Black Caucus decided to boycott Inauguration Day; John Lewis, for instance, spent the day in his Atlanta district. He thought it would be hypocritical to attend Bush's swearing-in because he doesn't believe Bush is the true elected president."
Lewis’ office confirmed the accuracy of the Post’s 2001 account.
"Rep. Lewis also missed one other inauguration, the first inauguration of President George W. Bush," said the statement from Lewis’ communications director, Brenda Jones. "His absence at that time was also a form of dissent. He did not believe the outcome of that election, including the controversies around the results in Florida and the unprecedented intervention of the U.S. Supreme Court, reflected a free, fair and open democratic process."
"John Lewis said about my inauguration, ‘It will be the first one that I've missed.’ WRONG (or lie)! He boycotted Bush 43 also because he… thought it would be hypocritical to attend Bush's swearing-in....he doesn't believe Bush is the true elected president. Sound familiar! WP" (The "WP" apparently refers to the Post story.)
So Trump’s tweet is accurate, and Lewis’ original statement on Meet the Press was not.
Lewis said that Trump’s inauguration "will be the first one that I miss since I've been in Congress." That’s incorrect: Lewis also boycotted the first inauguration of George W. Bush, a decision confirmed both by contemporary news reports and Lewis’ own office. He made this comment to demonstrate the intensity of his opposition to Trump, but it's a fact that he also boycotted Bush's inauguration. We rate Lewis’ statement Pants on Fire.
NBC News, "Rep. John Lewis: ‘I Don’t See Trump as a Legitimate President,' " Jan. 14, 2017
Washington Post, "So Close, So Far: A Texas Democrat's Day Without Sunshine," Jan. 21, 2001
Washington Post, "More than 40 Democratic lawmakers now skipping Trump’s inauguration," Jan. 17, 2017
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Atlantans say Trump is wrong about their city and John Lewis," Jan. 14, 2017
CNN, "John Lewis: Trump is not a 'legitimate' president," Jan. 14, 2017
PolitiFact, "Trump's exaggerated claim that John Lewis' district is 'falling apart' and 'crime infested,' " Jan. 15, 2017
mic.com, "Did John Lewis attend George W. Bush's inauguration?" Jan. 17, 2017
Email interview with Brenda Jones, communications director for John Lewis, Jan. 17, 2017
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