Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said Tuesday that Democratic congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis hadn’t contributed to the public good since his student leadership days in the 1960s.
Later in the same interview on an Iowa radio station, King broadened his attack to also accuse the Congressional Black Caucus of abandoning Martin Luther King Jr.’s values.
“I’ve served with John Lewis now for quite some time,” King said on WHO radio “And we don’t really always, I don’t know that we’ve ever found ourselves where we’ve been working together on legislation in that way. But I have long contemplated the idea of just going to the floor and saying, ‘John Lewis, thank you for your contribution to civil rights during the civil rights era. I would appreciate it if you would contribute something since then. It’s been a half a century.’ And a number of us have watched that and said, ‘He trades off of it.’ And I guess that’s fine. But he should be doing some other things, too. And I haven’t seen it happen from him.”
Through the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Lewis became an important civil rights leader in the 1960s. His activism included protesting segregated lunch counters in Nashville in 1961, and he was badly beaten by law enforcement during a march from Selma, Alabama. He has represented an Atlanta district since winning his congressional seat in 1986.
Lewis has been at the center of political conversations for days by becoming the latest to tangle with President-elect Donald Trump. Last Friday, Lewis said on NBC that he doesn’t “see this president-elect as a legitimate president.”
Trump responded by blasting Lewis on Twitter.
Speaking the day after the federal holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr., Rep. King (no relation) called the Congressional Black Caucus a “self-segregating caucus.”
“I mean, the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., as yesterday we celebrated his birthday, wasn’t about segregation, it was about desegregation,” King said. “But now they self-segregate and use the vehicle they created that’s the self-segregating caucus in order to advance a leftist political agenda that is not at all reflective of Martin Luther King’s memory. He wanted equal opportunity, and they don’t advocate for equal opportunity, they’re advocating for special privileges and immunity from the responsibilities that other citizens have to carry.”
King’s low appraisals of Lewis and the Congressional Black Caucus match some of his earlier racial assessments.
During an MSNBC appearance last summer, King objected to another panelist who criticized the GOP for the lack of diversity at the Republican Party’s national convention.
He suggested that no minority or “subgroup” had made as many contributions than white people.
“This ‘old white people’ business does get a little tired, Charlie,” King said on “All In With Chris Hayes” to Esquire writer Charlie Pierce. “I’d ask you to go back through history and figure out where are these contributions that have been made by these other categories of people that you’re talking about. Where did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization?”
Last June, one of King’s contributions to Congress was an amendment that would have blocked the Treasury Department from putting a portrait of abolitionist Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill. King said it was “racist” and “sexist” to call for adding a woman or person of color to the currency, according to Politico. The amendment was not voted on.