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. Citizen

    McSame and Kelly Bundy Palin don't like people comparing them to George Wallace, yet they are comparing Obama to a terrorist. The Republicans have fallen totally into hypocrisy.

    October 13, 2008 05:23 pm at 5:23 pm |
  2. VB Lincoln Park, NJ

    Thank you Congressman Lewis, for telling it like it is!!!!!!!!!

    October 13, 2008 05:23 pm at 5:23 pm |
  3. Schneider (I) - CA

    He is so used to lies and innuendo, that the truth stops him in his tracks. Very telling.

    October 13, 2008 05:24 pm at 5:24 pm |
  4. Ranger7

    Better fill out.... .the papers for the "Rest Home"!!


    October 13, 2008 05:24 pm at 5:24 pm |
  5. Ken Pittsburgh


    October 13, 2008 05:24 pm at 5:24 pm |
  6. conny

    and then came the truth oops that hurts!

    October 13, 2008 05:24 pm at 5:24 pm |
  7. Nannie Bouroughs

    John Lewis is, was and probably always will be the angry, arrogant loud mouth bigot that he always was – IF you ain't BLACK, then you don't count!

    October 13, 2008 05:24 pm at 5:24 pm |
  8. death of the republican party?

    um... nothing he said was unture. McCain and Palin have been injecting hatred and divisiveness into the campaign. And now he wants to call these comments "outrageous". Of course, now they wanna bring race into this. But guess what, not this time. Not this election.


    October 13, 2008 05:25 pm at 5:25 pm |
  9. Brian

    McCain is still claiming that Obama did not repudiate Lewis' comparison of him to George Wallace. But as you see above, he clearly has. Where is McCain's head?

    October 13, 2008 05:25 pm at 5:25 pm |
  10. Ken in NC

    'Outrageous'. Now that is a word people use when they hear something they cannot disprove. The truth hurts doesn't it John?

    October 13, 2008 05:25 pm at 5:25 pm |
  11. laura ont canada

    Anyone of us with the internet can view the hatred and unmitigated disdain for Obama outside the McCain Palin rallies. Quite frankly it is appalling..

    A person is not born with these thoughts they are taught the behavior and if Sen McCain thinks this is the way to bring the country together I fear for Americans as it only divides them.

    October 13, 2008 05:25 pm at 5:25 pm |
  12. McHoover Will Destroy What is Left of America

    McCain, your behavior over the last several weeks has been deplorable

    It is you who should be ashamed of their comments and hate mongering

    PS Stop whining it is very unbecoming coming from someone running for President

    October 13, 2008 05:25 pm at 5:25 pm |
  13. Jerry Atrick

    Poor Hillary Democrat. How long does the mourning period last in the Hispanic culture? 6 months – 1 year? You are forgiven! So what will you do after November – repatriate?

    October 13, 2008 05:26 pm at 5:26 pm |
  14. Its -- Over

    Time to through in the towel.... and the false teeth..!!!.

    October 13, 2008 05:26 pm at 5:26 pm |
  15. bob in L.A.

    What does McCain expect? His campaign- and make no mistake- it is his campaign, has insinuatred that Obama is a terrorist, or at least pals around with them. Lies about his voting record on suppoprt for supplies for the troops. Lies about the Obama tax plan. Refers to him a radical, elist and liberal ( like that is a bad thing!) and then when his followers take it to the next level he is shocked that someone would accuse him of being George Wallace!
    Actions have consequences. Even those of POWS.

    October 13, 2008 05:26 pm at 5:26 pm |
  16. Frank

    Hey John – if the hood fits, wear it!

    October 13, 2008 05:26 pm at 5:26 pm |
  17. e

    I guess all of the McCain bashers here forget that congress is controlled by the Democrats.

    So, are you better off now than you were before 2006?

    October 13, 2008 05:26 pm at 5:26 pm |
  18. voter

    it should stop McCain in his track. Sometimes you need an objective person to tell you how yours words are eliciting mob like hatred which is dangerous.

    October 13, 2008 05:26 pm at 5:26 pm |
  19. hengam

    You are not a democrat. You are an opportunist who does not get it.
    You will cut your nose despite your face.

    October 13, 2008 05:27 pm at 5:27 pm |
  20. Lone McCain Blogger

    Some on folks ...
    The One ads ...
    The He's not one of us ads ...
    Actually calling him "That One" ...
    Telling Oliver (the black guy) that he didn't know what Fannie and Freddie were ...
    Then while supposedly answering Oliver's question, he says he wants to protect the American Dream for "Alan over there" ... Alan over there was the old white guy that asked about retirement ...

    The math is clear, unfortunately

    October 13, 2008 05:27 pm at 5:27 pm |
  21. S. Boatman

    Shut Up Mccain! You Know Exactly What You Are Doing!

    October 13, 2008 05:27 pm at 5:27 pm |
  22. Turnabout is fair play

    It stopped you in your tracks because it struck a nerve of truth in you and it stung like a wasp on the back of your neck. How's it taste McPastybiscuitface?

    October 13, 2008 05:28 pm at 5:28 pm |
  23. Debra

    It was about time that someone spoke up and brought attention to what we all were seeing and hearing happen at Mcain-Palin "rallies".

    October 13, 2008 05:29 pm at 5:29 pm |
  24. Eric Tom

    " John Lewis' controversial remarks were "so disturbing" that they "stopped me in my tracks.."

    Can McCain Multi-task? A quality that is very crucial needed. He Can't. Remember , He had to suspend his campain, for the " Bailout" meeting.

    McCain does not meet the requirements for next president , given the multi-demension problem facing the Nation. Coupled with the fact tha he has made the wrong choice of VP.

    October 13, 2008 05:29 pm at 5:29 pm |
  25. Walt

    Having just watched John McCain's interview on CNN, I have one question: Is John McCain's perception of reality THAT out of touch or is he simple THAT big a liar?

    October 13, 2008 05:29 pm at 5:29 pm |
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