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. Louis

    Dear Johnny, This is hardball–sorry you forgot your glove.

    October 13, 2008 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  2. Chris from STL

    Senator, Please go back and listen to him carefully .... do not rush to judgement. Mr. Lewis did not equate you to Wallace, but your campaign tactics. There's a big difference between the two.

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

    Wish granted!

    October 13, 2008 05:06 pm at 5:06 pm |
  4. Dem in Red State

    I applaud Congressman Lewis condeming the negative rhetoric. McCain is upset because he knows the congressman is correct. I agree most people are patriotic Americans. But it is obvious that this hatred is being flamed, so much so McCain was forced to defend Obama at his own rally. I was listening to Palin yesterday and it is obvious she is one of the main causes. That and it sounded like she was addressing a bunch of 3rd graders. Give it up Sarah, we have had our fill.

    Obama/Biden come Nov 4th

    October 13, 2008 05:07 pm at 5:07 pm |
  5. Jay

    Oh, So Its OK when you and She-NO make outrageous comments about Obama? That stops all of us Americans in our tracks!

    October 13, 2008 05:07 pm at 5:07 pm |
  6. Wondering...

    Why is this a story?!?

    I guess when you lie so much, the truth evades you...this is the truth and John McCain can't handle it...


    October 13, 2008 05:09 pm at 5:09 pm |
  7. McSame

    Lewis was right in saying McCain and Palin incited Hate which could have led to violence if it wasnt stopped on time. Thats just a fact.

    October 13, 2008 05:09 pm at 5:09 pm |
  8. Dave

    Good, John McCain, it SHOULD stop you in your tracks, because – as you say – this is a respectable man and a hero who is saying this.

    That ought to give you pause, and obviously it did because you have tried to calm your rallies down ever since!

    October 13, 2008 05:09 pm at 5:09 pm |
  9. Ian Minneapolis, MN

    I'm glad that McCain is doing something about controlling some of the more angrier attendees at his rallies, and I do believe that they are a small percentage of his supporters. What I'm not ok with, is palin egging this hate rhetoric on. She has done nothing but provoke people's hatred and ignorance in this campaign. I think John should make sarah apologize for not condemning these statements made by their supporters, and I don't think the Obama campaign should do anything until Palin makes a statement.

    October 13, 2008 05:09 pm at 5:09 pm |
  10. Ron

    The Truth does hurt. Rep. Lewis was exactly right in his accusations.
    I am a white middle aged Republican who is disgusted that the McHate / PitBull campaign has reduced my Patry to intolerant ReThugLicans. When your whole campaign consists of lies and negative attacks. This is the kind of anger and hatred that you foment.
    I am Outraged with you John McCain. Shame on you.

    October 13, 2008 05:09 pm at 5:09 pm |
  11. Sandra, Oregon

    Rep Lewis hit the nail on the head, it is frightening and "outrageous" how the Republican party can allow their pig with lipstick to spout off words like terrorist and get her desired reaction from the crow of kill him, etc., someone finally called them on it because the way their campaign was going I was waiting for the KKK to show up with their white sheets.

    October 13, 2008 05:09 pm at 5:09 pm |
  12. KLM

    So this is what happens when a spade is called a spade. You cannot shovel out hatred and stoke the fires of fear and not expect for it to be shown for what it truly is. The time of 'wink, wink', hush-hush is over. People are tired of manipulation and I applaud all who stand up and speak up – no matter which side they're speaking from.

    October 13, 2008 05:10 pm at 5:10 pm |
  13. Vinson

    Sorry McCain – truth hurts!

    Obama-Biden '08

    October 13, 2008 05:10 pm at 5:10 pm |
  14. Omaha for Obama

    I'm glad that the Rep Lewis said what he did. When McCain and the nitwit were at their rallies, they heard the terrible things that were said and decided not to take the opportunity with the mic in their hands and stop it. I understand you can't control what comes out of someones mouth, but you can say something right then and there. They really thought that this tactic was going to work. Instead it blew up in their faces.

    October 13, 2008 05:11 pm at 5:11 pm |
  15. Briana

    Sarah Palin pals around with people who literally want to rip one of the stars out of our flag. Why Sarah do you feel that America is so imperfect that you pal around with the Alaskan Independence Party. Secession is not the way I see America, Palin.

    October 13, 2008 05:11 pm at 5:11 pm |
  16. Anonymous

    McCain/Palin's activities or actions have taken us several steps back in people relationships and should be ashamed about it. From a person that lived through the dark periods of the USA, Congressman Lewis is dead on about their actions. It is a sad day in USA history for what they have introduced to our society.

    October 13, 2008 05:11 pm at 5:11 pm |
  17. MD, TX


    If you are only now noticing that Obama and his supporters are running a racist campaign, then you don't deserve to win.

    October 13, 2008 05:11 pm at 5:11 pm |
  18. Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum

    McCain, It's o.k. for you to dish it out. What a whiner! Remember the old statement "if the shoe fits. . ." Representative Jackson said it aptly this morning on CNN. The difference between the two campaigns is that one incites and the other one excites. McCain, the former describes your campaign over the last week.

    October 13, 2008 05:12 pm at 5:12 pm |
  19. Listen Up...

    ? Huh what? Is he still talking about this? McCain does understand that it was his campaign who started this whole mess with their hate talk.

    October 13, 2008 05:12 pm at 5:12 pm |
  20. Hillary Democrat

    If not voting for Obama make me a racist...then so be it. This hispanic man will vote republican for the first time in my life. I believe experience and reform is needed in Washington, not a community organizer, smooth talker, junior senator from Illinois.

    October 13, 2008 05:12 pm at 5:12 pm |
  21. Happy in Arizona

    Give up already. He only confirmed your campaigning is disrespectful to your opposing candidate and full of nothing more than lies or misleading comments. You and Palin are a disgrace fto Americans. Now, you couldn't pay me to vote for you.

    October 13, 2008 05:12 pm at 5:12 pm |
  22. s

    McCain & Palin, if you were black, you might understand. But you aren't and you don't. That's why the Repub Party hardly get ANY black votes. You folks just don't get it. Period.

    October 13, 2008 05:12 pm at 5:12 pm |
  23. Obama Supporter

    For all the ignorant people who hate someone because of their race, have your fun while you're here on earth, but shake in your shoes when you have to face THE REAL JUDGE!

    October 13, 2008 05:13 pm at 5:13 pm |
  24. Praetorian, Fort Myers

    The fact remains:
    Obama was hoisted and his roots are deep with the Chicago liberal scene–some of these supporters and allies are/have been quite radical regarding antiwar activities, social and racial agendas, and others are less radical–few of them are centrist as he proposes to be today.

    Where does this place his judgement when it comes to: re-engineering social programs; selection of judges and cabinet members?

    Many are quite angry–not because Obama is black–not even because he's a liberal. They are angry because he has moved towards the center for the past two years–but his agenda still reads "left wing".

    October 13, 2008 05:13 pm at 5:13 pm |
  25. Shari, NY

    Sen. McCain: When your party ran out of ideas it resorted to divisiveness. Even the blind can see that. Why did Mrs. Palin not seek to pacify her followers when threatening statements were being made?

    October 13, 2008 05:14 pm at 5:14 pm |
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