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. Murf

    Sometimes the oldest truisms are the most accurate. It is said that in old age one of the first things to go is the hearing. Sometimes people just understand that what they say – or themselves hear – isn't heard the same way by others. Perhaps Senator McCain needs to understand the way he, Sarah Palin, and their supporters are being heard. And the message is coming across loud and clear across the country. The McCain campaign has a racist undertone that disturbs thinking Americans. The problem isn't John Lewis and some of recognize hate speech when we hear it.

    October 13, 2008 05:35 pm at 5:35 pm |
  2. Laura

    Sarah Palin is George Wallace with heels ..

    October 13, 2008 05:35 pm at 5:35 pm |
  3. Wendy

    The truth hurts, John.

    Everyone in the country sees it. Those of us with conscience are appalled...those of you who support this kind of behavior encourage it.

    Shame on you....you cannot call yourselves good Americans anymore.

    October 13, 2008 05:36 pm at 5:36 pm |
  4. SamSunny

    When McCain stirs the fires of racial distrust it is campaigning as usual. When he is called out for using these tactics he is flabbergasted. Come on John McCain....do you think we are that stupid? You have been using these tactics on purpose...you know it, and we know it. So, don't pretend you are so upset when someone calls you out for doing it. If you don't like being known for this kind of campaign, then don't run this kind of campaign. Very simple.

    October 13, 2008 05:36 pm at 5:36 pm |
  5. Hermas

    What I think is Senator Obama is playing the "victim" card, same as he did since the beggining...

    October 13, 2008 05:36 pm at 5:36 pm |
  6. kimokeo from kauai

    you know what? Most white Americans are racist. If at the end of the day McCain is chosen as the president it will be no surprise to this Hawaiian, who knows just how underhanded, deceitful, and untrustworthy Americans can be.

    October 13, 2008 05:36 pm at 5:36 pm |
  7. America


    October 13, 2008 05:36 pm at 5:36 pm |
  8. the other jd

    Ain't no such thing as a Hillary Democrat. Ain't no such thing.

    October 13, 2008 05:37 pm at 5:37 pm |
  9. Obama 08: white, female, 60 yr old supporter

    McCain should look ihn the mirror and see the person who is continually lying to the American people!!

    October 13, 2008 05:37 pm at 5:37 pm |
  10. Abe



    October 13, 2008 05:37 pm at 5:37 pm |
  11. ohio

    talk about plans mccain stop talking about other people

    October 13, 2008 05:38 pm at 5:38 pm |
  12. (Former) Lifelong Republican for Obama, Columbia, TN

    Lewis's comments were entirely appropriate. I may sort of disagree with the premise of Lewis's arguments, but I agree with the ultimate conclusion. McCain has been spreading hate and anger!

    October 13, 2008 05:38 pm at 5:38 pm |
  13. independent in Texas

    Whats outrageous about someone telling the truth ? Which McCain and Palin dont know how to do, but want to claim outrage when they are called for lying and inciting rage. What a joke they have become..
    Obama..Biden all the way

    October 13, 2008 05:38 pm at 5:38 pm |
  14. Ryan , Indianapolis

    Get over it...I know your a demoRAT and a huge sissy. But it was a figure of speech. Democrats really are PATHETIC.

    October 13, 2008 05:38 pm at 5:38 pm |
  15. Greg

    bakersfield – I hear what you are saying, but the issues at stake in this election are bigger than you. It is just not as simple as how much in taxes you would like to pay.

    We are all in this together!

    October 13, 2008 05:38 pm at 5:38 pm |
  16. philip

    It's always what fits them that is right. Remember back in 1988 when the Republicans were all over Murphy Brown for CHOOSING to have a baby as a single mom? How that was not setting an example! Fast forward to 2008 and the Republicans are silent about the example their Vice President's family is setting by teenage pregnancy. They are hypocrites. What a flip-flop! I wonder how much they will spend investigating Barack and Michelle Obama

    October 13, 2008 05:38 pm at 5:38 pm |
  17. andrea

    Mcclueless Just claimed that he has heard people yell out the same hate baised comments at Obamas speeches as there has been at his. I must have missed somthing or Mccain is haveing another episode of somekind. and what does he mean we have them were we want them? It made no sense to me. maybe he was talking to his fellow prisoners again! I feel like Im In a dark hole everytime mccain or palin speek . Its realy scary!!!!!

    October 13, 2008 05:40 pm at 5:40 pm |
  18. Linda K.

    Bakersfield, your comment touches me. Please go back and listen to Obama's speech about the economy today, or read the transcript. I'm no economist, but I think you'll feel relieved when you know for sure what he said. He's pledged to work for hard-working Americans.

    October 13, 2008 05:41 pm at 5:41 pm |
  19. CindyN--PA

    The sad thing is McCain is trying to pretend that he and Palin didnt know exactly what they were doing.
    They were losing, and so it was time to play on the fears of white America. The next thing you see is the people at his rallies yelling out the most awful things. Nice.
    Yeah, that is what we want in a President of the United States of America.....
    Get real.

    October 13, 2008 05:41 pm at 5:41 pm |

    Obama is an Empty Suit. Please america wake up to what this man is offering you. Which is higher taxes,bigger government and a welfare state. Question if GW is such an idiot then what does that make you? Since he beat you twice? Liberalism really is a disease.

    October 13, 2008 05:42 pm at 5:42 pm |
  21. young and informed independant WASP( woman against sarah palin )

    i still think George could have been harsher..

    October 13, 2008 05:42 pm at 5:42 pm |
  22. sick n tired

    Hey McCain whats up with the left side of your face? Have yourself a mild stroke recently or something? YOUR TOO OLD TO BE MY PRESIDENT! I MEAN YOUR 72 YEARS OLD FOR GODS SAKE!!!!!!

    October 13, 2008 05:42 pm at 5:42 pm |
  23. Lost in Texas

    nothing like being happy when you're behind eh, senator. I do commend McCain though for correcting that idiot woman the other day about Obama being an Arab, yet he should have also mentioned that all Arabs are NOT bad people, ask the Bushs they have some friends in the Middle East. I have yet to hear Gov Palin though codemn the hateful language at her rallies and that is where most of this stuff is coming from. We can disagree all we want about politics but when it becomes hateful the line should be drawn. There are plenty of lunatics out there that would LOVE to take a so-called terrorist down. And they are the ones that don't go to Fact Check on CNN.

    October 13, 2008 05:42 pm at 5:42 pm |
  24. Ed

    Palin is a simpleton and McCain is, well McCain. If Senators Obama's name was John Smith and he were white, this election would be a joke. He would win by a 20 point margin. The McCain party is promoting hate, and separation, have you seen the T.V spots? remember when he adresses Obama as "that one"? Please America lets open our eyes and see that McCain will deliver us the same route as Bush. And think about this, we will be one 72 year old heart beat away from having a president as dumb as Kelly Bundy!!!

    October 13, 2008 05:42 pm at 5:42 pm |
  25. andrea

    shannan the pres dont care what you think he never has! and the only crybaby thing I hear is yours wimmper wimmmper!

    October 13, 2008 05:42 pm at 5:42 pm |
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