If indeed the phrase “Feel the Bern” has worn thin this election cycle, civil rights leader John Lewis is more than keen to be the first person to give it a rest. It turns out that the Democratic representative from Georgia is not exactly a fan of presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, a point that he made implicitly clear during a speech endorsing Hillary Clinton on Thursday. Not content to simply give a nod to Mrs. Clinton in her quest to become chief executive, Lewis cast aspersions on Sanders’ record as an activist and advocate while announcing his pick for high office.
“I never saw him, I never met him. I was chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee for three years – 1963 to 1966,” John Lewis said in comments transcribed by the Huffington Post. “I was involved in the sit-ins, the freedom rides, the March on Washington, the march from Selma to Montgomery. I directed the board of education project for six years. I met Hillary Clinton. I met President Clinton.”
The comments by Lewis were part of a larger announcement by the political arm of the Congressional Black Caucus, which has thrown its support behind Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. CBC Chairman G.K. Butterfield, a representative from North Carolina, also criticized Bernie Sanders in the course of his pro-Clinton remarks.
“We must have a president that understands the racial divide – not someone who just acquired the knowledge recently, but someone who understands the racial divide and has lived it and worked through it down through the years,” he said.
In a report for Mother Jones, Tim Murphy documented Bernie Sanders’ history of work as part of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and an affiliated group in the early 1960s. Murphy noted that while it is likely that Bernie Sanders and John Lewis never crossed paths during that time, there are numerous primary resources which prove that Sanders was an active and respected member in the movement, particularly in efforts around Chicago. The report also confirms that Bernie Sanders was present at the March on Washington in 1963, noting that Sanders was likely involved in activism around the Hyde Park area at the time that John Lewis was delivering his celebrated speech.
The unflattering characterizations by Lewis and Butterfield undoubtedly come as a disappointment to the Bernie Sanders camp, who enjoyed a huge win over Hillary Clinton in the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday. The morning after his noteworthy achievement, Sanders met with outspoken civil rights leader Al Sharpton at a diner in Harlem in a scene reminiscent of Sharpton’s meeting with Barack Obama at the same location during the 2008 elections. According to NPR, Sharpton will also meet with Hillary Clinton in the near future and then announce his endorsement shortly thereafter.
Despite his much-touted momentum after this week’s feel-good victory, Bernie Sanders faces an uphill battle against Hillary Clinton in subsequent primary elections. According to aggregate polling data by Real Clear Politics, Clinton is heavily favored heading into the South Carolina primary, leading Sanders 62.0 percent to 32.5 percent. She also leads Sanders by substantial margins in the Nevada and Massachusetts primaries, which follow the South Carolina vote. At a national level, the gap is a good deal closer between the two Democrats, though, as Bernie Sanders has closed to within 16 points of Hillary Clinton.
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