In back-to-back interviews with Donald Trump spokesman Sean Spicer on Monday, CBS This Morning and NBC’s Today grilled the incoming White House press secretary over the President-elect getting into a “battle” with “civil rights icon” John Lewis after the Democratic Congressman questioned the legitimacy of the election.
On CBS, co-host Norah O’Donnell breathlessly proclaimed: “President-elect Trump is in an angry dispute with a legend from the civil rights era on this Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Supporters of Congressman John Lewis are criticizing the President after he blasted Lewis on Twitter. Lewis and other House Democrats plan to skip Friday's inauguration.” Across the screen blared the headline: “New War of Words; Trump Battles Civil Rights Icon.”
Following a report on the back and forth, fellow co-host Charlie Rose demanded of Spicer: “First, John Lewis, was that necessary on behalf of the president? Notwithstanding what John Lewis had said.” In part, Spicer responded: “John Lewis, more than anybody, understands the need to enfranchise people, to get them out to vote, and when he makes a comment about the illegitimacy of an election and the illegitimacy of a president I think it that really undermine part of the work that John Lewis has done because he's been such a champion of voting rights...”
Rose argued: “The President-elect doesn't have to respond to everybody who criticizes him and especially in this case at this time.”
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On the NBC morning show, substitute co-host Tamron Hall declared: “This morning, fellow Democrats are rallying behind civil rights icon, Representative John Lewis, after Trump labeled him ‘all-talk, no action.’” In the report that followed, correspondent Kristen Welker emphasized: “Mr. Trump faces new fallout over his clash with civil rights icon, Congressman John Lewis....On Twitter, Mr. Trump accusing Lewis of being “All talk, talk, talk, – no action or results. Sad!” Lewis, a Freedom Rider who was brutally beaten by state troopers while marching for voting rights with Dr. King in Selma, Alabama 50 years ago...”
The headline on screen announced: “Trump Feuds With Civil Rights Icon; Inauguration Boycott Grows After Battle With Rep. Lewis.”
Minutes later, Hall pressed Spicer on the matter, fretting: “Sean, let's talk about the latest battle we've just been reporting on between the President-elect and Congressman John Lewis. The President-elect attacking John Lewis' district, his service to this country....Was this the proper way to handle this, for the President-elect?”
After Spicer accurately pointed out that “Congressman Lewis started this, with your own Chuck Todd [on Sunday’s Meet the Press], by saying that the election was illegitimate and that President-elect Trump was an illegitimate president,” Hall dismissively retorted: “But you talk about who started it, which again, would remind any parent of a schoolyard fight.”
Spicer made no appearance on ABC’s Good Morning America, but that didn’t stop the morning show from similarly lecturing Trump for being “in the middle of an ugly fight with a civil rights icon” on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
While the outrage on all three networks focused on Trump’s response to Lewis, the Democratic Congressman questioning the President-elect’s legitimacy received only brief criticism.
Here are excerpts of the January 16 interviews on the CBS and NBC morning shows:
CBS This Morning
7:15 AM ET
CHARLIE ROSE: Let me ask you about John Lewis and John Brennan. First, John Lewis, was that necessary on behalf of the president? Notwithstanding what John Lewis had said.
SEAN SPICER: Well, again — Look. I think John Lewis is an icon in both civil and voting rights. And this, today, on Martin Luther King jr.'s anniversary.
SPICER: I think it’s a day that we can recognize the efforts that someone like John Lewis has made He's been a stalwart fighting for that. And that's why I think his comments were disappointing. John Lewis, more than anybody, understands the need to enfranchise people, to get them out to vote, and when he makes a comment about the illegitimacy of an election and the illegitimacy of a president I think it that really undermine part of the work that John Lewis has done because he's been such a champion of voting rights, working to get more people to vote and the legitimacy apparatus and systems. But to see him make a comment like that, I think, was disappointing.
ROSE: The President-elect doesn't have to respond to everybody who criticizes him and especially in this case at this time.
SICER: I understand that. But when someone of John Lewis's stature goes out and attacks the legitimacy of an election and his legitimacy as president, there is a sense that when someone of that huge stature and iconic nature attacks him, the President-elect has a right as he's done over and over again of fighting back and making sure that he shows he's not going to sit back and take attacks without responding.
7:15 AM ET
TAMRON HALL: Sean, let's talk about the latest battle we've just been reporting on between the President-elect and Congressman John Lewis. The President-elect attacking John Lewis' district, his service to this country. We're looking at four days to the run-up of the inauguration. Was this the proper way to handle this, for the President-elect?
SEAN SPICER: Tamron – I want to just take it back a step, Tamron, because I think, you know, Congressman Lewis started this, with your own Chuck Todd, by saying that the election was illegitimate and that President-elect Trump was an illegitimate president. So let's see where it started, which is you have this icon of voting and civil rights claiming that an election was illegitimate when there is zero evidence of that. Everybody has confirmed that the election was dually held. There was no tampering with anything.
And to see somebody of John Lewis' stature, and iconic nature – who has worked so hard to enfranchise people and talk about getting people involved in our voting systems and getting and talking about the integrity of our voting system – to then go out when the candidate of his choice doesn't win and try to talk about the de-legitimization of the election is, frankly, disappointing.
And on a day like today – on a day like today, where we're celebrating or observing the birthday of Martin Luther King, the reason – you know, today, President-elect Trump is going to sit down with Martin Luther King III and others in New York and have a conversation about voting, about bringing more people in these things, the legacy of Dr. King, and how we can continue to pursue that under a Trump administration.
HALL: Sean, let me –
SPICER: Those are the kind of things that we should be talking about. And frankly, some of the things that John Lewis talked about earlier in that interview, about the legacy of Dr. King and the beauty of what he really wanted to achieve. So to see him go out and talk about the de-legitimization of an election was disappointing.
HALL: Well, two things, Sean, here. We do know that intelligence has shown that Russia tried to interfere, which is the issue that Congressman Lewis took up. But you talk about who started it, which again, would remind any parent of a schoolyard fight. Who started it first?