John Lewis on Bernie Sanders' civil rights work: 'I never saw him'

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Hillary Clinton's Southern firewall is stirring. Up in Washington, John Lewis just cut Bernie Sanders cold. The congressman's comments came only a few hours after, down in Atlanta, Mayor Kasim Reed did the same. First, Lewis' remarks via the Associated Press:

WASHINGTON — Civil rights leader John Lewis on Thursday dismissed Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders' 1960s work on racial equality, saying, "I never saw him. I never met him."

The Georgia congressman — a stalwart of the Freedom Rides through the South, lunch counter sit-ins and the 1963 March on Washington — raised questions about Sanders' involvement in the movement when the Vermont senator was a college student.

Lewis has endorsed Sanders' chief rival, Hillary Clinton, and his comments come at a critical time as the two White House contenders focus on the upcoming primaries in Southern states with predominantly African-American Democratic voters. He made the remarks at a Capitol Hill news conference where members of the Congressional Black Caucus' political action committee delivered a full-throated endorsement of Clinton.

On his campaign website, Sanders says he has a "long history of fighting for social equality and the rights of black Americans — a record that goes back to the early 1960s." While a student at the University of Chicago, Sanders was involved in the Congress on Racial Equality and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He also was arrested while protesting segregation.

"I never saw him. I never met him," Lewis told reporters. "I chaired the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee for three years from 1963 to 1966. I was involved in the sit-ins, the Freedom Rides, the March on Washington, the march from Selma (Alabama) to Montgomery and directed the voter education project for six years. I met Hillary Clinton, I met President Clinton."

After routing Clinton in New Hampshire by double digits, Sanders met with the Rev. Al Sharpton in New York on Wednesday as the two candidates focus on the more diverse electorate of Nevada, South Carolina and the multiple states holding primaries and caucuses in March.

If Clinton solidifies her support among black voters over the next month, she could amass a significant number of delegates in the push toward the 2,382 needed to win the nomination. There are more than 1,400 delegates at stake in states such as South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and Louisiana, and depending on the outcome and proportional allocation of delegates, Clinton could build a comfortable lead.

Wins also could drive superdelegates to her candidacy. She currently leads among those elected leaders and party officials, 362-8.

Lewis and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus said they would fan out in the coming days to campaign for Clinton in South Carolina and other states.

Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., said the PAC board voted overwhelmingly for Clinton. He said she has been "our partner long-term," and would help elect Democrats across the board.

Privately, Democrats fear that Sanders as the nominee would lead to major losses in House and Senate races.

Kasim Reed was on CNN this morning. You can watch the clip here. Said Reed:

"One of the things that has been very troubling to me and people in the city of Atlanta and folks I talk to in Columbia, S.C., is how dismissive Senator Sanders’ message is of the work that President Barack Obama has done.

"He talks about college affordability, but he never referenced how much President Obama and Democrats put on the line to remove $50 billion from the cost of college. He talks about universal health care, but he doesn’t give enough credit to Barack Obama, supported by Secretary Clinton, providing health care at the highest levels we have had in the history of our country – more than 90 percent of the people and adding 18 million newly insured…."

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About the Author

Jim Galloway
Jim Galloway
Jim Galloway is a three-decade veteran of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution who writes the Political Insider blog and column.