October 13th, 2008
02:50 PM ET
6 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. Former Republican for OBAMA

    IF ELECTED MCBUSH WOULD IN ALL PROBABILITY

    MAKE TELLING THE TRUTH ILLEGAL. IT WOULD BE

    PART OF THE HOME LAND SECURITY ACT.

    October 13, 2008 05:30 pm at 5:30 pm |
  2. Help us Lord

    Hillary Democrat= Republican born and bread quit hiding behind Hillary's name

    October 13, 2008 05:31 pm at 5:31 pm |
  3. Scott L

    "My attitude is that if the economy's good for folks from the bottom up, it's gonna be good for everybody ... I think when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody." – Barack Obama

    Get ready .. your obamessiah socialist just removed the liberal mask he has been hiding behind.

    No WAY I am spreading my wealth around to anyone else except my children. No one else deserves the things I have worked so hard for. Especially freeloaders, illegal immigrants and those that do nothing all day.

    If you vote for Obama then kiss your children's financial future goodbye. Why even work anymore if you can just freeload?

    October 13, 2008 05:31 pm at 5:31 pm |
  4. Biff

    HOW "DARE" LEWIS TELL THE TRUTH ?????!!!!!!!

    October 13, 2008 05:32 pm at 5:32 pm |
  5. NJ

    Talk About Dirty Politics, Lewis should be ashamed of himself for making such a racist remark. He is trying to scare African Americans to not vote for McCain. Because Obama is black they should be forced to vote for him. What kind of crap is that. Race has nothing to do with this Election, It's just that Obama doesn't have the experience.....

    October 13, 2008 05:32 pm at 5:32 pm |
  6. Just like Bush

    McCain needs to apologize to Barack after his campaign has been getting folks to believe he is a terrorist! This is racism not only against Barack but also to thousands of innocent Muslim Americans who are law-biding citizens in this country! People of color cannot support a campaign of hatred against them!

    When you run campaign based on racism, expect for a few brave people to stand up and say you're wrong!

    And Sarah palin claims she knows the difference between good and evil.

    October 13, 2008 05:32 pm at 5:32 pm |
  7. The Truth Hurts

    It is funny...I constantly hear John McCain have more "experience" than Barack Obama...Well, what type of experience are we speaking about. I have been confused ever since I heard this slogan.

    If we are speaking about being President then NEITHER have experience.

    Age... Yes, Sen. McCain is much older than Sen.Obama...but according to how the McCain campaign have been going lately, "experience" will be a relative term.

    Would we call the devise rhetoric stated last week by the McCain campain "experience"?

    BTW: It is interesting to observe the McCain campaign can hear what Rep. John Lewis had to say...but can't hear the hateful shouts at their rallies...Some which they (Palin and McCain) are seen listening to.

    *Obama/Biden 08*

    October 13, 2008 05:33 pm at 5:33 pm |
  8. Dee, Tx

    I'm with McCain, I was taken aback when I heard Palin say, Obama "is not one of us". I was shocked and astonished. You didn't hear these comments until Palin/McCain started trying to link Obama with terroists and "not one of us" comments. So me too McCain, I'm taken aback that your campaign went their. But I give you credit for trying to dial it back.

    October 13, 2008 05:33 pm at 5:33 pm |
  9. LeapTutor.com

    Everyone, listen, observe and analyze. Stop blaming the candidates for other peoples radical views. I'm an Obama supporter, but there are things that can improve on both sides. The people should make sure that all candidates, present and future should never run a failed campaign such as that of McAins. We must make these candidate realize that educated people don't want to hear the BS, we want hear your ideas and plans for America and the people.

    October 13, 2008 05:33 pm at 5:33 pm |
  10. Nancy K. - Georgia

    I watched Mr. McCain's interview with Dana Bash and his outrage to Mr. Lewis'comments are most disingenious. He allowed his running mate, Ms. Palin, to use inflammatory rhetoric about Mr. Obama for weeks and never did he tell her to stop.

    Too many people have felt the sting and heat of Palin's charges of Mr. Obama "palling around with his terrorists friends", "He's not like us", and other statements that incite emotions of hate and dislike. Mr. Obama is a U. S. Senator and deserves to be treated as such. All of this negative stuff has popped the McCain/Palin ticket in the head. They dished it out and now it won't go back into the package. They played with fire and got burned. OOPS!

    October 13, 2008 05:33 pm at 5:33 pm |
  11. Jean

    Why is McCain so upset by what Representative Lewis said? What about what PALIN said about Obama "Palling around with Terrorist"? I am tired of the fake outrage coming from the McCain camp when they are the very people who instigated the beginning of these nasty comments.

    I am surprised in the recent CNN interview why that question wasn't asked of him – "What about what Palin said?"

    October 13, 2008 05:33 pm at 5:33 pm |
  12. Victor from MI

    More faux-rage it seems. Sad and desperate indeed!

    October 13, 2008 05:33 pm at 5:33 pm |
  13. patriot in CO

    McShame and McPalin's campaign has been disturbing, dishonest, and dishonorable, but what can you expect when Bush operatives and lobbyists are running the show.

    October 13, 2008 05:33 pm at 5:33 pm |
  14. lil

    I think mccain/palin's whole campaigh is outragious.
    Make no mistake Palin knew exactly what she was doing and was
    loving doing it.

    October 13, 2008 05:34 pm at 5:34 pm |
  15. Biff

    if it walks like a duck.... and quacks like a duck.......

    October 13, 2008 05:34 pm at 5:34 pm |
  16. California Gold

    I'm glad Lewis' remarks stopped Senator McCain right in his tracks. Apparently nothing else got McCain to notice the hate being sold by his V.P. and the angry crowd hysterical mob mentality tangent his campaign has taken.

    October 13, 2008 05:34 pm at 5:34 pm |
  17. Erica Peresman

    I read Lewis's comments as criticizing McCain's and especially Palin's failure to condemn hateful and threatening speech at their rallies. McCain and Palin cannot be held responsible if people who wish to see Obama dead happen to attend their rallies. But surely we can all agree that it is the responsibility of a major party candidate for President or Vice President of the United States to speak up when his or her rally degenerates into public calls for murder of the opposing candidate. McCain did not immediately do so (although he has since) and neither did Palin. I think that Lewis made a fair point, that any person who aspires to lead our country must condemn hateful and threatening rhetoric issuing from his or her supporters. To do otherwise is to to tacitly condone it.

    October 13, 2008 05:34 pm at 5:34 pm |
  18. Phil in KC

    OK, I have to admit that Lewis was over the top. McCain does not deserve comparison to George Wallace. And I will give him credit for toning down the rhetoric the last couple of days. But his VP is still fanning the fires and I think he needs to put a leash on her. She's out of control.

    October 13, 2008 05:34 pm at 5:34 pm |
  19. Nate- Minneapolis

    There is an excellent article on Rolling Stone called the "Make Believe Maverick." It will come up in nearly any search. It's must read for anyone who considers voting for John McCain. Very informative and clear about who John McCain is.

    October 13, 2008 05:34 pm at 5:34 pm |
  20. dg

    Where was the statement from the McCain – Palin ticket denouncing the remarks yelled at from the people at their rallies. But yet so quick to come out with a statement when someone calls them out for not denouncing the comments at the rallies. I believe that the McCain -Palin ticket is practicing action by inaction by not stopping the rallies right away when they hear the comments and condem them right away.

    October 13, 2008 05:34 pm at 5:34 pm |
  21. PA voter

    Rep. Lewis did not accuse McCain and Palin of riotous behavior. Instead what he said was that their rhetoric and tone was causing the worst in some people to emerge. And he was right! McCain and Palin stirred up a hornet's nest and now they are left with trying to quiet all the bees. They now have a base made up of extremists and fanatical fundamentalists. Normal folks have abandoned the Erratic Express. Each time someone jumps up and yells "terrorist", "bomb him" or "Arab", they now have to address and denounce it. Their baby is having a full-blown tantrum.

    October 13, 2008 05:35 pm at 5:35 pm |
  22. Justin Eilers

    It is just a matter of time before we hear Palin use the "N" word. I really want to know how she feels about her ticket running against someone who is not white.

    October 13, 2008 05:35 pm at 5:35 pm |
  23. Eyckie

    Wow, that takes a lot of nerve and there's the kettle calling the pot black again.

    October 13, 2008 05:35 pm at 5:35 pm |
  24. Jack Jodell, Minneapolis, MN

    Sure, John. Most of YOUR remarks are outrageous!!!

    October 13, 2008 05:35 pm at 5:35 pm |
  25. Shannon

    I wonder why the press doesn't ever bring up the fact that obama and his supporters love to whine racism. In order to win they labeled the Clintons racist, and now it's McCain. When will all the whining stop.

    October 13, 2008 05:35 pm at 5:35 pm |
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