Trump clashes with civil rights leader as inauguration looms

FILE - In this Jan. 11, 2017 file photo, Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga. testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington at the confirmation hearing for Attorney General-designate, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Lewis says he’s doesn’t consider Donald Trump a “legitimate president,” blaming the Russians for helping the Republican win the White House. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump’s feud with civil rights icon John Lewis is highlighting the president-elect’s willingness to attack any and all political rivals even with his inauguration less than a week away.

The Republican billionaire slammed the Democratic congressman — and his Atlanta-area district — on Saturday, a day after Lewis described Trump as an illegitimate president. Lewis, like a handful of Democratic lawmakers, vowed to skip Trump’s Friday swearing-in ceremony.

Trump tweeted that 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.”

The incoming president added: “All talk, talk, talk – no action or results. Sad!”

Trump continued to jab Lewis on Saturday night, charging that the congressman “should finally focus on the burning and crime infested inner-cities of the U.S.”

“I can use all the help I can get!” Trump tweeted.

Trump’s response was in line with his aggressive style throughout his unorthodox campaign in which he found political success even while attacking widely lauded figures— a prisoner of war, parents of a slain U.S. soldier, and a beauty queen, among others.

Lewis is among the most revered leaders of the civil rights movement and devoted his life to promoting equal rights for African-Americans. He suffered a fractured skull while leading the march in Selma, Alabama more than a half century ago.

“The tweet is unnecessary, it’s unfortunate,” former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele, who is African-American, said on MSNBC

“John Lewis has a walk that very few people in this country — least of all Donald Trump — have ever walked. So you have to respect that and pay attention to that in a real sense,” Steele said.

One of Lewis’ Democratic colleagues, Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., also declared he would skip Trump’s inauguration, in part to defend Lewis.

“Trump — who lost the popular vote — has made a series of racist, sexist and bigoted statements. In addition, he has attacked Gold Star parents, veterans such as John McCain and now civil rights icon John Lewis,” Lieu said.

He added, “For me, the personal decision not to attend the Inauguration is quite simple: Do I stand with Donald Trump, or do I stand with John Lewis? I am standing with John Lewis.”

The weekend clash highlighted the sharp contrast between how many African-Americans view Trump’s inauguration compared with that of Barack Obama, the nation’s first black president, eight years ago. Trump critics also noted that his aggressive tweet came days before the national holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr.

Trump’s assertion that Lewis’ district is “falling apart” and “crime infested” is hard to back up with facts.

Georgia’s 5th Congressional District, which includes the Atlanta metro region, is considered one of the nation’s fastest-growing areas, although its crime and poverty rates are higher than the national average.

The district has an 8.2 percent unemployment rate and the median household income is about $48,000, according to the Census Bureau.

The area also covers part of the upscale Atlanta neighborhood of Buckhead, along with the headquarters for Fortune 500 companies such as Coca-Cola and Delta Air Lines, Emory University, Georgia Tech, several historically black colleges and universities and the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, one of the world’s busiest.

The Lewis-Trump feud began when the 16-term congressman said he would not attend Trump’s swearing-in ceremony. It will mark the first time he skipped an inauguration since joining Congress three decades ago.

“You know, I believe in forgiveness. I believe in trying to work with people. It will be hard. It’s going to be very difficult. I don’t see this president-elect as a legitimate president,” Lewis said in an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press” set to air Sunday.

“I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected. And they helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton,” Lewis said.

U.S. intelligence agencies have said that Russia, in a campaign ordered by President Vladimir Putin, meddled in the election to help Trump win. After spending weeks challenging that assessment, Trump finally accepted that the Russians were behind the election-year hacking of Democrats. But he also emphasized that “there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines.”

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