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. Ken in Dallas

    It seems as if the principled John McCain is trying to wake up. It's sad to say that he's slept too long, and if he really does wake up, he'll find himself living the nightmare that is Sarah Palin on his ticket.

    October 13, 2008 05:14 pm at 5:14 pm |
  2. TLLG

    McCains and Palins words might not be as controversial as George Wallace's, but they are sure coming close. I am glad something has finally stopped McCain in his tracks. He needs to watch his words and stop pointing fingers when he is not squeeky clean either. Lewis was trying to make a point and I believe he did. Get back to the issues Mr. McCain and stop the nasty campaigning. We're just not interested!

    October 13, 2008 05:15 pm at 5:15 pm |
  3. Angus

    Is this all that McCain has got to harp-out about?

    October 13, 2008 05:16 pm at 5:16 pm |
  4. e

    So much hate from those that claim to be the party of tolerance. Now I know why I ditched the democratic party. Bunch of egotistical, I'm always right' people. Democrats are the most intolerant bunch in the country.

    Mr. Obama is unable to speak effectively without his teleprompter and a lot of people here compalin about Palin. Biden can barely string together an intelligible sentence but people criticize Palin. Obama will not talk about his past at all, ever. He will not allow Harvad or Columbia to release any information about him. Michelle Obama's thesis has been pulled from the Princeton library until after teh election. Why is there so much cover-up if there is nothing to hide?

    October 13, 2008 05:16 pm at 5:16 pm |
  5. Tim in Syracuse

    I have to say that the atmosphere that John McCain was cultivating certainly warranted a response. Working up followers to the point they are yelling "kill him" in reference to Barack Obama.

    FINALLY we see McCain correcting the 'misconceptions' that his supporters had been engendering in people via e-mails and fliers for months.

    Hearing people making statements about Obama being an Arab, Muslim and terrorist sympathizer ...... you can look at the McCain Campaign for the source of many of these 'misconceptions.

    October 13, 2008 05:17 pm at 5:17 pm |
  6. laura ont canada

    Anyone who has access to the internet can view the crowds waiting outside the McCain/Pallin rallies and quite honestly, They are appalling.

    I would suggest Sen McCain get his daughter to show them to him on the internet and see the seeds of hatred his running mate and him by not stopping it sooner.

    October 13, 2008 05:17 pm at 5:17 pm |
  7. JudyR Arkansas

    I sorry Mr. McCain but Senator Lewis's remarks were not "outrageous" the "outrageous" remarks were being spued from the mouths of your supporters, which you, as well as, Mrs. Palin should have acted responsibly by stopping and controlling the situation. You did control it this past Friday but it was only after you and your campaign have been heavily chastised for it.

    October 13, 2008 05:17 pm at 5:17 pm |
  8. Felly

    McBush, whatever fruit you sow, that you will reap.

    October 13, 2008 05:18 pm at 5:18 pm |
  9. S. Boatman

    You Are Just Like That Mccain! You Get People All In A Rage Just Because You Are Loosing! With That Attitude You Deserve To Loose! I An An Obama Supporter But My Wife Supported You! After She Watched The News About What Was Happening At The Rallies She Is Now Supporting Obama With Me! Your Have Filled Speeches Have Cost You Another Vote!

    October 13, 2008 05:18 pm at 5:18 pm |
  10. CindyN--PA

    McCain you must be stupid to continue keep poking at this hornets nest. The fact is, Palin said she wanted Americans to connect the dots. We can connect the dots. With the history of this country has for shooting Presidents, you should be compared to Wallace.
    You were feeding that fire, by not stomping it out immediatly.
    You waited too long to say or do something about it.
    You and Palin are gulity of this charge.

    October 13, 2008 05:18 pm at 5:18 pm |
  11. Accountant Guy

    I like many, would like to know why CNN is not reporting more on Palin being found guilty of abusing her power!!

    Obama/Biden '08

    October 13, 2008 05:18 pm at 5:18 pm |
  12. 37-year-old First Time Voter

    This is ridiculous. Lewis statement had more to do with the fact that McCain and Palin DID NOT say anything when these idiots were yelling their racist remarks.

    It took complaints from the media for him to act on it and if they hadn't, McCain would not have said anything to this day.

    October 13, 2008 05:19 pm at 5:19 pm |
  13. Jack

    Ooouch, indeed.

    "Oooch!" said (to McCain) "it was your shame that 'stopped you in your tracks'"

    That's the best summation of this incident that I've read anywhere.

    October 13, 2008 05:19 pm at 5:19 pm |
  14. fella from Chicago

    Yes Congressman Lewis, that's the way to get white America to vote for Obama. Throw more racism on the fire. Apparently, the two of you went to the same church the Rev. Wright preached at. And by the way, George Wallace carried a northern state that Obama is trying desperately to win. I'll say this, the black community has its fair share of knuckleheads out there.

    October 13, 2008 05:20 pm at 5:20 pm |


    October 13, 2008 05:20 pm at 5:20 pm |
  16. nychag 4 Obama

    The truth is that McCain represents Americans who are almost extinct. There is a new generation of Americans working diligently to take their country.

    It will be a new kind of government.

    October 13, 2008 05:20 pm at 5:20 pm |
  17. Tanya

    The saddest part is that Palin/McCain campaign believes that all American people are very stupid.
    And watching Palin's rallies makes me wonder if they got it right.

    October 13, 2008 05:21 pm at 5:21 pm |
  18. Vegas Barbie for Obama

    No matter that what Rep. Lewis said was TRUE...SHEESH, John!

    October 13, 2008 05:21 pm at 5:21 pm |
  19. troy

    Never trust anyone who begins everyother sentence with "Let me tell you something, My Friends".

    October 13, 2008 05:21 pm at 5:21 pm |
  20. Me

    John Lewis is right. He didn't call McPalin Wallace. Any person with a 2nd grade education understood what he meant. What I have seen at these rallies led by McDunce, made me concerned about Sen. Obama and his family – those supporters are hateful, a hateful bunch.

    October 13, 2008 05:22 pm at 5:22 pm |
  21. ANGIE

    John someone needs to wisen you up about your camapign and what palin is doing to you since you cant see it yourself THERE IS NO NEED FOR HATE RACISIM AND VIOLENCE IN THIS COUNTRY NOT AT A TIME LIKE THIS AMERICA IS SUPPOSE TO BE BETTER THEN THAT! cmon John you are a pow you should know better!

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

    Hillary Democrat...
    I doubt you ever were, but if you really WERE a supporter, then you missed the whole point of her 30+ years of work! It's all about the issues. Not YOUR petty whining.

    October 13, 2008 05:22 pm at 5:22 pm |
  23. Robbin

    What bothers me also is the fact that they are making it seem like people of Arabic descent or Muslim faith are bad people that need to be feared and hated. I know several Arab-Americans of Muslim faith that are kind, decent, patriotic Americans and should not be branded as evil because of the actions of radicals. McCain/Palin are just rallying up those racists to hate everyone that is different and John Lewis was dead on with his comments. Do not apologize for telling the truth Rep Lewis!

    October 13, 2008 05:22 pm at 5:22 pm |
  24. facts are facts

    The Lewis comments had nothing to do with race but rather the result of inflamatory speeches of which both McCain and Palin had been delivering until they realized the backlash they were causint.

    The Republican talking heads on the Republican FOS Network are all bashing McCain now saying he is irratic and Obama is going to be elected with a landslide. They know this one won't be close enough to steal.

    John needs to get off the stump and seek some medical attention as he has been going downhill by the day and that isn't mean that is just a fact pretty any body watching has witnessed.

    October 13, 2008 05:23 pm at 5:23 pm |
  25. Lyndon,CA

    John Lewis is 100% correct and should have nothing to clarify!

    October 13, 2008 05:23 pm at 5:23 pm |
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