Edmund Pettus Remembering civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis | Washington Week | PBS
, A week ago, civil rights icon and Georgia Congressman John Lewis. He died from pancreatic cancer at the age of 80.. Lewis helped organize the historic 1963 March on Washington and survived a beating at the hands of law enforcement in Selma Alabama in 1965.. Lewis’ death comes amid a racial reckoning in this country, following the death of George Floyd at the hands of White police officers and it’s. One that echoes the movement we did see in the 1960s for civil rights for Black Americans.. Here was what Congressman Lewis said about the George Floyd protests. In a recent interview with CBS News. REPRESENTATIVE JOHN LEWIS, D, GA From video.. This feel and look so different.. It is so much more massive and all inclusive., And I truly believe what has taken place now and will continue to take place during the next few days and weeks is going to take us much farther down that road to a society at peace with itself. COSTA Quotpeace with itself.quot What will come next, then in the ongoing fight for racial justice, Who will be the new leader or leaders or this historic movement With us tonight, are four top Washington reporters to discuss the Lewis legacy: Weijia Jiang White House, correspondent for CBS News, Rachel, Scott White House, correspondent for ABC News, Peter Baker, chief White House, correspondent for The New York Times and Jake Sherman senior writer for POLITICO and co author of Playbook. Rachel. You were down in Troy, Alabama.
You’re, going to cover Congressman Lewis’ memorial service on Saturday.. What is the scene like in Alabama tonight, as they remember their hometown hero RACHEL, SCOTT Yeah Lewis was known as the boy from Troy. That’s. What Martin Luther King called him when he first met him. And to know who John Lewis was you have to know about? Who he was here growing up in Troy, where he preached to his chickens.? This is where he began his fight for civil rights., And this is going to be the first of a series of days where people will come and pay their respects to the civil rights icon who, before he walked those marble halls of Congress. His blood stained, the streets of Selma as he fought for voting rights. And I think about one of the most powerful images. His last public appearance of him standing in Black Lives Matter Plaza right outside of the White House. The words painted at his feet – and he told reporters there that he does believe that we will get there when he was asked about the racial unrest that is happening right. Now., COSTA, Powerful., Jake you’ve covered Congressman Lewis inside the House of Representatives.. What are your memories of him as a lawmaker, JAKE, SHERMAN, It’s, interesting Bob.? The interesting thing about John Lewis was people would wait for him to weigh in on an issue.. I remember when Democrats were trying to figure out when they were if they were going to impeach Donald Trump.
Everybody was waiting for John Lewis to talk., And I wrote this in Playbook last week and I think this is true. John Lewis, didn’t talk, he thundered. His words carried such weight, not only because of his history, but his presence as a member of Congress, which was so awesome so strong, so overpowering, because you know what he had been through. And it got me really thinking Bob about All the people we’d lost in the last couple years, John McCain, George H.W. Bush people who are kind of links to our shared past as a country. John Lewis, as much as any American hero is definitely one of those people. Somebody who carried the civil rights era carried the message of the civil rights era, as Rachel said to the halls of Congress, which was just it was such a special experience. Knowing somebody like John Lewis – and he was just such a kind man – somebody who you always wanted to talk to., He always liked to talk policy, not talk about the political implications and the horserace inside the Capitol that we so much so enjoy to cover. COSTA. That is so true. He was never a great quote in the hallway. He was a serious man, and I mean that only with respect., Some of these congressman as Jake knows and women. They love to give you a little pithy quote in the hallway. Congressman Lewis, always on a mission always doing his work.
Weijia. When you’re at the White House tonight and the president has been at odds to say at least to say the least, with Congressman Lewis over the years., How have they handled it inside the campus inside the White House in recent days, WEIJIA JIANG Well just today, Kayleigh Mcenany or this week she was asked whether President Trump would visit the Capitol to pay his respects to Lewis and she did not give a firm answer., And I think that is sort of indicative of the careful walking that they have to do because, as you mentioned There is a history between President Trump and the congressman and that’s, something that you know they’re always aware of., But they also acknowledged that he is an icon, and you know I think it’s tricky.. In fact, I remember distinctly that on the morning that you know everyone was waking up to this news. We were watching to see if President Trump would respond and it took quite a while.. He was golfing.. The White House did not immediately send out a statement.. We had to ask multiple times and finally Kayleigh McEnany tweeted something., But there is this push and pull that you know, despite the fact that we are talking about a giant who laid the foundation for what the country is today, because there is personal animosity or was At least between these two leaders, they are not embracing it in a way that you might expect. They’re, checking all the boxes, they’re doing the things that they’re supposed to do, but so far have not gone beyond that to truly to truly celebrate this life.
COSTA Peter. You have covered president after president. – We just talked about President Trump and Congressman Lewis, but what about President Obama and Congressman Lewis? What was that relationship like PETER BAKER? Well, I think it was an incredible passing of the torch you know. At his inauguration. In 2009, John Lewis went up to Barack Obama and asked him to sign the program and Barack Obama wrote on there because of you. You know this happened because of you in effect to John Lewis, which I think always meant an awful lot to the congressman, because he saw the connection between the struggles that he led in the 1960s and the progress that had been made with the election of the First, African American president. – I remember going to Austin in 2014 to the LBJ Library, for the anniversary of the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, and I sat down with John Lewis there to talk about that.. President Obama was giving a speech., And the thing about John Lewis, in that kind of a setting in that kind of moment, is to feel the moral authority to feel the presence that he had to feel the sort of dignity that he brought to policy and politics.. You don’t have to agree with him. You could have disagreements with him about. You know a vote on this or that, but he brought such you know, clarity to his participation in public life., And I was with him again a year later in Selma in 2015.
At the 50th anniversary of that march and there he was walking across that bridge again and this time he was walking hand in hand with Barack Obama hand in hand with the first African American president.. Imagine that 50 years later to be having that experience for John Lewis and by the way just a few feet away from him, was also marching. Former President George W. Bush, who wanted to make the point that civil rights is not a partisan issue that, in fact it should be a bipartisan issue. Whether there are disagreements about specific legislation., He showed up there in Selma in 2015 to pay his respects to John Lewis and the others who made that courageous march back on Bloody Sunday.. So these are very powerful memories.. I think John Lewis leaves behind a legacy. That is impacts all Americans and all presidents., Whether they’re Republican or Democrat in the years to come, they’ll, remember John Lewis and what he stood for., COSTA Rachel. You want to jump in here, SCOTT Yeah. I just thinking about the words that John Lewis said that he believed that he had a moral obligation to stand up and fight for what is right.. You know he was arrested dozens of times. And you know he had this quote or he said that he smiled when he was arrested and you could see it in the mugshot because he knew that he was on the right side of history. And it didn’t matter.
Where he was leading that fight right, Whether it was in Selma, whether it was at you know, sit ins at segregated lunch counters or whether it was at Congress on the House floor, staging a sit in to protest and demand for gun reform.. His message was so simple. And I think the words that John Lewis said will provide fuel and comfort and passion for many of the young protesters and activists today.. He said We cannot get complacent., We have to be impatient. And we have to continue to fight for what we believe is right. COSTA John Lewis did spend his life fighting for the right to vote. When he was beaten nearly to death in Selma. He was marching for Black Americans to secure equal access to the ballot., But in 2020 what the congressman fought for may be at risk in the view of his Democratic colleagues.. They say in the past decade and they point to the states enacting measures that risks suppressing voter access, particularly for Black Americans.. This comes after the Supreme Court rolled back key protections of the Voting Rights Act. And now President Trump has sought to discourage mail in balloting. During the COVID 19 pandemic and alleged it could undermine the validity of the results. Jake on Capitol Hill. Where does the future of the Voting Rights Act? Stand SHERMAN You’d have to imagine Bob if there’s an all Democratic Washington come 2021 come January 2021. That will be something that they take.
A serious look at is enacting some of those laws. There’s been a push recently since John Lewis’ death to re up the Voting Rights Act and name it after John Lewis., That’s, very unlikely. Obviously, with a Republican Senate and a Republican president, you know between whom there’s a huge gulf, obviously between the Democrats and the Republicans on an issue like voting rights.. So I would imagine it’s a top priority in an all Democratic Washington should that come to pass. But until then I would have to imagine these kinds of issues will be on the back burner in divided government., COSTA And Weijia talking about the president’s contesting of the election or the suggestion that he may contest it. The legacy of Congressman Lewis is discussed in that context. If we’re having an active conversation right now in this country about voter access about whether the president will accept the results of the election. He’s been coy about that. Based on your reporting. How does this play out between now and November JIANG? Well, I think it will evolve as we’ve seen with so many things regarding President Trump in this pandemic, because initially he was really making the case that voters didn’t have a reasonable excuse to use mail in ballots, because you know they could easily show up in person To the polls., But now you know as we’re talking about how he has changed his messaging and how he seems to finally acknowledge the facts which show this virus isn’t going anywhere that explanation, doesn’t really hold up anymore, because certainly it is reasonable for people to be Afraid to go out in public in large groups to vote.
, And so you know I don’t think he’s been asked about this since his change in the substance of what he is saying this week.. But surely he will be especially as we get closer to November, because it seems that you know that argument’s going to fall, apart. COSTA Weijia just to wrap up here. What are you paying attention to ahead of next week? Jiang, You know the president is supposed to travel again and be on the road., And so I think, it’ll be really important to watch his behavior and to see what he says, because, even though he now embraces face coverings, for example, he’s only worn a mask one Time in public., Even though he says that things are going to get worse, you know there’s, not really a demand from the president for these governors of states that are hot spots to really do more., And so, even though he has taken steps to show that he’s Taking this pandemic more seriously than he was, he really has to do something more and to show through measures and to show, through bringing out members of his taskforce exactly how he plans to control the virus, which he actually has not answered. Yet, despite recognizing that it is ravaging our country. COSTA, Peter what’s, the story that deserves more attention this week, BAKER, You know laughs. I was thinking about that earlier today. And there are so many that it’s hard to even keep track.
Let’s just review a couple from this week alone. One the president of the United States spoke with the president of Russia today or yesterday, or this week Vladimir Putin.. We had this just a few weeks ago, we were talking about where the Russians had placed bounties on the heads of American troops.. That did not come up in the conversation, at least according to the White House readout.. We have this. We have this conflict with China that we didn’t get a chance to talk about, but it’s huge., They just the Americans today. This Trump administration this week ordered the Chinese to shut down their consulate in Houston, accusing them of intellectual theft down there.. The Chinese have now responded by ordering an American consulate closed.. This is sounding like a new Cold War.. We had so many stories like this that get overshadowed because we have this big, overarching crisis of the pandemic, the economy and of the you know the unrest over the George Floyd killing and the aftermath of that that we lose sight of some of the other big Things that are happening. But they’re all going to have large implications down the road. COSTA Jake, who is the one player you’re paying close attention to as this congressional stimulus deal comes together, SHERMAN Mitch, McConnell, Mitch, McConnell and Mitch McConnell. How McConnell handles this will obviously be A big story. Mitch McConnell is the Senate majority leader and he’s, trying to thread the needle within his very diverse, I guess only in opinion, but his diverse laughs, Senate Republican conference.
And then he goes to negotiate with Nancy Pelosi. Who is in her own right? A legislative wizard. – And I say this a lot but Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell – are very similar., So it’ll be interesting to watch them. Two legislative tacticians of the highest order go at each other in these negotiations, trying to get a large scale trillion dollar COVID relief package in a really tough time for the economy and for the country. COSTA Rachel. What do you expect to see at Congressman Lewis’ memorial service in Alabama on Saturday, SCOTT, No shortage of an outpouring of support right, And I think that will be communicated in a lot of different ways, especially with the pandemic. People have to take in mind now. Gathering coming together., And so I know that his family is encouraging people to also share their love online, to post messages, to even leave something on their door handles in memory of him right. But I think, especially at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where he was nearly beaten to death, where he marched across, where he bled for the right to vote. It is going to be a very powerful image. And it is going to even prompt questions about where we are now how far we have come and where the fight needs to continue to go. COSTA. We will leave it there. That’s it for this edition of our Extra.. Thank you very much to Weijia Jiang, Rachel, Scott Peter Baker and Jake Sherman for your time on a Friday night.
, And you can listen wherever you get your podcasts or watch on our website.. While you’re there sign up for our Washington Week, newsletter. You’ll get an advanced look at our show. Each week. You’ll see my stories. The stories of other reporters links to interviews. There’s a lot of stuff there., But for now I’m Robert Costa.