October 13th, 2008
02:50 PM ET
10 years ago

McCain calls Lewis remarks 'outrageous'

(CNN) - Sen. John McCain said Monday that Rep. John Lewis' controversial remarks were "so disturbing" that they "stopped me in my tracks."

Watch: McCain responds to Lewis

Lewis, a Georgia representative and civil rights icon, on Saturday compared the feeling at recent Republican rallies to those of segregationist George Wallace.

"That's not from some quote party official, that's from one of the most respected people in America. It's unfair. It's unfair and it's outrageous," he said in an exclusive interview with CNN's Dana Bash.

"I never believed that Lewis, who is an American hero whom I admire, would ever make a comment of that nature. He even referred to the bombing of a church in Birmingham. That's unacceptable," he said.

Lewis on Saturday said in a statement that McCain and Gov. Sarah Palin "are sowing the seeds of hatred and division."

"During another period, in the not too distant past, there was a governor of the state of Alabama named George Wallace who also became a presidential candidate. 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," wrote the Democrat.

He later said that a "careful review" of his comments "would reveal that I did not compare Sen. John McCain or Gov. Sarah Palin to George Wallace."

A McCain aide described the moment that the campaign saw Lewis' comment as an emotional one, and a reality check as to "what the campaign is up against" when it comes to the thorny discussion over race on the campaign trail.

The senior advisor, who was with McCain, told CNN that they delayed the Republican nominee's flight to Davenport, Iowa, and got on a conference call from the plane with campaign manager Rick Davis and senior advisor Steve Schmidt to hammer out a statement.

McCain said Saturday that Lewis' earlier statement was "a brazen and baseless attack" and called on Sen. Barack Obama to repudiate it. McCain on Monday again criticized Obama for not condemning Lewis' words.

The Obama campaign said that Obama "does not believe that John McCain or any policy criticism is any way comparable to George Wallace or his segregationist policies" but said Lewis was "right to condemn some of the hateful rhetoric."

McCain told CNN that Lewis' status as a respected politician makes his remarks even more unacceptable.

"I say when anyone says anything like that that is so beyond the pay, that it stuns me, because that's not what America and this debate should be all about," he said. "I will reject that kind of language, and again, I'm so disappointed in Congressman John Lewis."

Some McCain supporters have yelled out "treason," "kill him" and "terrorist" at recent campaign events.

Asked about the anger at his rallies - something that has increased after the McCain campaign starting highlighting Obama's ties to 1960s radical Bill Ayers, McCain said he was insulted by some characterizations of his supporters.

"There is always the fringe element that's in politics in America. The overwhelming majority of the people that come to my rallies are good and decent and patriotic Americans," the Republican presidential candidate said. "For anybody to emanate that the overwhelming ... 99 percent is anything but patriotic and good Americans is frankly unacceptable, and I won't stand for it."
The Obama campaign has recognized McCain's efforts to get his supporters to show respect.
McCain said Monday that despite trailing Obama in the polls, he's comfortable with where they are.

According to CNN's latest poll of polls, Obama is up by 8 percentage points, 50-42.
CNN's national poll of polls consists of six surveys: ABC/Washington Post (October 8-11), Fox News/Opinion Dynamics (October 8-9), Newsweek (October 8-9), Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby (October 10-12), Gallup (October 10-12) and Diageo/Hotline (October 10-12). It does not have a sampling error.

"We're going to be just fine. I have been written off on so many occasions by so many so-called pundits that it's hard for me to count," McCain said, joking that his campaign has "more lives than a cat."

"But the point is - we're doing fine. I'm happy where we're at, we're fighting the good fight. That's what it's all about."

Filed under: John McCain
soundoff (191 Responses)
  1. Barbara - 65 yr old white female in NC

    They should have stopped you in your tracks – period.

    You are wrong, John McCain. We are running TO Obama every time you try to put him down. In 3 days I will early vote for Obama.

    Sen. McCain. Tone it down. Tell the people what YOU will do for the country. And please muzzle your PitBull. She's a negative you don't need or really want.

    October 13, 2008 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  2. Bill

    Seems to me that, if Lewis wants to see a racist, he should look in the mirror. Apparently, if you're not for Obama, you're a racist. What a crock.

    October 13, 2008 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
  3. Ellie, MD







    October 13, 2008 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
  4. Seth

    Why is VA still a "toss-up" on your electoral map, while you show Obama up by 12% in your "polling" map? Inconsistent.

    October 13, 2008 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |
  5. obamacrat

    John McCain is the ultimate over-reactor

    October 13, 2008 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  6. Seth in Jacksonville, FL

    I like the hyperbole. "Stopped me in my tracks."

    Yeah right.

    October 13, 2008 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  7. bill for barack

    McCain has consistently fanned the flame of racial intolerence and incited his followers to violence. He has done nothing to quell the calls of 'terrorist', or ' kill him'. In fact, if you notice the videos, he wears a sick, twisted smile whenever he hears those comments being made by his rabble.
    To comapre him to George Wallace, as John Lewis has done, is only to be far more charitable than he deserves. John McCain bears a much closer moral resemblance to a certain Austrian paper-hanger of the 1930s.

    October 13, 2008 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  8. Diane

    They were inciting hatred which leads to violent acts. All he was doing was speaking the truth and I am sure the gentleman knows a thing or two about racism and what it does to people who are worked into a frenzy.

    October 13, 2008 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  9. Spencer/Commonwealth of Virginia

    If it's so outrageous John, why are you trying to reinvent your campaign??? When supporters in your crowd were yelling "kill him", and "terrorist" when referring to Sen. Obama, you didn't denounce it then. You had to wait to see what kind of response it got. Well sir, that shows another bad decision in judgement. You actually were in your right mind to tell that old lady that Sen. Obama was not Arab. Why didn't you do that the first time??? Why, Why, Why??? You and your running mate have caused divisiveness. So when 11/5/08 comes around and you're not the the new POTUS, you have no one to blame except but yourself.


    October 13, 2008 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  10. Jerry Ohio

    Well McCain and Palin you guys started all the negative attack against by saying he hang with terrorist group and Rev Wright American people do not want to hear these negative attacks and I think John Lewis was saying we should go back in the old days with negative attacks on Obama

    October 13, 2008 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  11. Obamafied Cheesehead

    McCain and Palin need to show some leadership qualities and take responsibility of what comes out of their mouths. They can’t incite people and then hide and say they are not responsible for other people’s anger.

    October 13, 2008 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  12. Unwilling fellow prisoner

    You have some kinda nerve trying to call this man out after the BS spewed by you and your campaign. You have lost any inkling of respect that I ever had for you. Go home and reflect on your dishonorable actions.

    October 13, 2008 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  13. Kerry in VA

    McCain has again misinterpeted the comments of others. I understood what he was sayin and by no means he was comparing him to Wallace. Just another tactic when it comes to the GOP.

    October 13, 2008 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  14. Nick

    while Iraqi stock market hit all time high!!

    October 13, 2008 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  15. NJ

    That is the Liberal Leftist way, divide within then conquer. Why can Lewis say this and not be called a Racist. Double standards do exist in America. Lewis brings shame to Hard Working Decent African Americans...

    October 13, 2008 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  16. Republican Voting OBAMA

    I almost feel sorry for Senator Obama having to see that his opponent is running in circles and has no clue about the economy and therefore being allianated from his friends and family that you wanna just reach out and touch him.

    Obama/Biden 08/12

    October 13, 2008 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  17. ken

    Mccain is surging on the ticker!!

    October 13, 2008 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  18. GA Independent

    Yes Senator McCain – you have become the "fringe element"'s darling. Isn't it appalling? But we saw it, heard it, and you've been called on it by your friends, including Congressman Lewis. The Congressman has done you a favor – please don't fan the flames of ugliness.

    Obama/Biden – Patriots and Change We Can Believe In...

    October 13, 2008 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  19. Andy - Atlanta, GA

    If Obama were to stop in his tracks everytime he hears one of your outrageous attacks, he would pretty much be stationary.

    You need to learn to take things in your stride, and focus on the issues.

    October 13, 2008 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  20. ooouch!

    Sen. John McCain said Monday that Rep. John Lewis' controversial remarks were "so disturbing" that they "stopped me in my tracks."

    John, it is called..."telling the truth and shaming the devil", it was your shame that "stopped you in your tracks"

    October 13, 2008 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  21. Staunton, VA

    Oops... Palin, pain - same thing. Forgive my spelling.

    October 13, 2008 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  22. John in Ohio

    Sorry McCain, but nobody at any Obama rally I've been to, and I've been to a few, has ever called you a traitor or a terrorist and said you should be killed.

    But that happens at your rallies. You need to stop and think, "Why is this happening? Why are my political rallies becoming a lightning round for nationalism, hate, and racism? What am I doing to contribute to this and what can I do to stop this?"

    Don't attack the people pointing it out. Don't blame Lewis or Obama. Come out and say, contritely, "Yeah, there are some atrocious things that have been said by people that, regrettably, consider themselves my supporters. Know that I do not support them, and I do not support their racism."

    Be honorable again.

    October 13, 2008 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  23. Kim in AZ

    Amazing how he can get so offended by the truth. Sarah Palin is the worst hate-monger in the country with McCain as a close second. The truth hurts – change your way, John, before it hurts the whole country.

    October 13, 2008 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |

    He's shocked! We've all seen/heard the comments from McWar's rallies and are shocked that he let the words continue!

    it was as close as you can get to a KKK rally these days. Who are these people that are having rallies for him?? Scared, Arab?? Do they get out much w/the exception of these rallies?

    McSame and McPalin will never get to the White House. They will continue to "open mouth, insert foot" for the next 23 days starting with the Wed. debate!

    Obama / Biden '08

    October 13, 2008 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  25. Chuck

    Is John McCain listening at his rallies? Does someone shouting out "KILL HIM" sound familiar? When these white angry men stand up and yell how really mad they are, but can't give a reason as to what exactly makes them so mad sound familiar? Does the fact that Palin and Cindy McCain the mouthpieces of the repulican campaign try to incite furry at every campaign stop go unnoticed? Does the fact that even repulican's think that McCain has hit a new low resonate racism? The fact is the republican campaign has turned into a racially motivated campaign. Just the fact that John McCain finds the remarks of Mr Lewis' outrageous makes me think McCain knows the truth hurts.

    October 13, 2008 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
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