President Trump Says He Will Not Pay Respects to Rep. John Lewis Lying in State at the Capitol
"No, I won't be going, no," Trump told reporters on Monday
President Donald Trump confirmed Monday he did not plan to pay his respects to the late civil rights activist Rep. John Lewis, who was being honored with a lying in state at the Capitol in Washington, D.C.
On Monday, Lewis' casket was brought to the Capitol rotunda for the prestigious ceremony, which continued into Tuesday.
"No, I won't be going, no," Trump, 74, told reporters when asked if he would go on either day.
He did not give a reason, though he had harshly criticized Lewis before Lewis' death — notoriously trashing the congressman's district in 2017. (And Lewis, a leading Democrat, had harshly criticized Trump as well.)
Instead on Monday, the president headed to North Carolina to visit a facility where work is being done on a possible vaccine for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
Lewis — who died on July 17 at age 80 — became the first Black lawmaker to receive the honor of a lying-in-state public viewing, an American tradition that memorializes late government officials in D.C.
Photos showed the Pences standing behind Lewis' casket at Capitol to pay their respects.
In a statement the day after Lewis' death, the vice president said the congressman "was a great man whose courage and decades of public service changed America forever, and he will be deeply missed."
Calling Lewis an "icon of the civil rights movement," Pence also called him "a colleague and a friend."
"Even when we differed, John was always unfailingly kind and my family and I will never forget the privilege of crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge at his side on the 45th anniversary of Bloody Sunday," Pence's statement said.
Former Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Dr. Jill Biden also visited Lewis' casket at the Capitol on Monday.
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Trump and Lewis had a contentious relationship prior to the longtime Georgia congressman's death.
Back in January 2017, during Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend, Trump launched a Twitter rant trashing Lewis, accusing him of being “all talk ” and “no action or results.” Lewis did not shy away from voicing his disapproval of Trump, either, explaining to NBC News at the time why he would not be attending Trump's inauguration — the first he missed in three decades.
“I don’t see this president-elect as a legitimate president,” Lewis said at the time. “I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected. And they helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.”
The day after Lewis' death, the White House lowered flags to half-staff, and Trump issued a short statement over Twitter.
"Saddened to hear the news of civil rights hero John Lewis passing," he wrote. "Melania and I send our prayers to he and his family."
Lewis — a Democratic representative and former “freedom rider” — had a long history of political and social action.
In the 1960s, he was the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the infamous peaceful 1965 voting rights protest on Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama — where he was beaten by a state trooper who fractured his skull.
On Sunday, the body of Lewis crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge one last time during an event called "The Final Crossing" as part of the ongoing memorial services honoring him. Armed Forces Body Bearers placed the late Georgia congressman onto a horse-drawn caisson to take him across the bridge from Selma to Montgomery.
The series of memorials in honor of Lewis began on Saturday in his hometown of Troy, Alabama. The so-called "The Boy From Troy" memorial was held at Troy University, bringing together family, friends and colleagues to remember him, NBC News reported.
Lewis will next lie in state in the Georgia State Capitol on Wednesday.
His funeral, which is not open to the public, is set to take place at Ebenezer Baptist Church Horizon Sanctuary in Atlanta on Thursday.