John Lewis, Questioning Trump's Legitimacy, Among Dems Skipping Inauguration

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Congressman John Lewis (D-GA) testifies to the Senate Judiciary Committee during the second day of confirmation hearings on Senator Jeff Sessions' (R-AL) nomination to be U.S. attorney general in Washington, January 11. Joshua Roberts/Reuters

Congressman John Lewis, who questions President-elect Donald Trump's legitimacy, is among a growing group of Democratic lawmakers who will not attend Trump's inauguration on Friday.

Lewis is among at least 10 lawmakers who will boycott the swearing-in ceremony at the capital after the civil rights movement icon told "Meet the Press," in an interview to air Sunday, that he doesn't "see the president-elect as a legitimate president. I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected, and they helped to destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.

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"I don't plan to attend the inauguration. It will be the first one that I've missed since I've been in Congress," said the Georgia lawmaker, who has been in office since 1987.

Lewis is not alone. The Hill reports that Democratic lawmakers who have announced they'll skip the ceremony include:

  • Illinois Congressman Luis Gutierrez;
  • Massachusetts Congresswoman Katherine Clark;
  • California Congressman Jared Huffman;
  • California Congresswoman Barbara Lee;
  • Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva;
  • California Congressman Mark DeSaulnier;
  • Missouri Congressman Lacy Clay;
  • Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer;
  • Oregon Congressman Kurt Schrader.

Grijalva, one of the Democrats boycotting the inauguration, explains his planned absence "is not motivated by disrespect for the office or motivated by disrespect for the government that we have in this great democracy. But as an individual act, yes, of defiance, at the disrespect shown to millions and millions of Americans by this incoming administration and by the actions we are taking in this Congress."

Lewis cites the assessment of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia's government directed a hacking effort designed to aid Trump's candidacy in explaining his opposition. "I think there was a conspiracy on the part of the Russians and others that helped him get elected. That's not right. That's not fair. That is not the open, Democratic process."

Unsurprisingly, Trump responded in kind Saturday via Twitter, attacking Lewis's service in Congress. "Congressman John Lewis should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results. All talk, talk, talk - no action or results. Sad!," the president-elect tweeted.

Trump's comments—as well as criticism from supporters, such as conservative commentator Dinesh D'Souza, who tweeted "John Lewis is not a 'legend'—he was a minor player in the civil rights movement who became a nasty, bitter old man"—have drawn a torrent of support on social media from those who find the president-elect's remarks unseemly, including Republicans.

"On MLK weekend you want to question John Lewis' service. 1st you diss intelligence services now civil rights. Pathetic!," one Twitter user wrote. "John Lewis is an American Hero! The only thing you fight for is your self interest! #NotMyPresidentElect!!!," wrote another

Lewis's legacy as an integral leader of the civil rights movement, alongside Martin Luther King Jr., is clear. An original Freedom Rider, Lewis served as chairman of the Student Nonviolence Coordinating Committee in the 1960s. He suffered beatings and arrests as he helped organize voter drives and coordinate marches throughout the south. He was one of the organizers of King's famous March on Washington, and is the only man still alive who spoke on the day of King's "I Have a Dream" speech in 1963. He currently represents Georgia's Fifth District in the House of Representatives.

The MLK weekend spat comes as civil rights activists stage a protest in Washington on Saturday, the first of a planned week of demonstrations. Several thousand protesters led by the Rev. Al Sharpton marched through the National Mall toward the King memorial, chanting "no justice, no peace."

"We stand together, not as a people of hate, but as a people of hope," said Charley Hames Jr., president of the Oakland, California, chapter of Sharpton's National Action Network. "We believe this march is the first of many."

Reuters contributed to this report.