WASHINGTON--Donald Trump's vice president and top aides on Sunday joined the U.S. president-elect in criticizing an historic civil rights activist and lawmaker for questioning the legitimacy of his election win, opening up a new divide days before the inauguration.
U.S. Representative John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat, told NBC's "Meet the Press" he thought hacking by Russians had helped Trump, a Republican, get elected in November. Lewis said he does not plan to attend Trump's swearing in on Friday, the first time he would miss such an event since being elected to the House in 1986.
Vice President-elect Mike Pence, incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and Trump spokesman Sean Spicer characterized Lewis' remarks as disappointing and damaging to the reputation of U.S. democracy.
"We honour the sacrifice that he made," Pence said on CBS' "Face the Nation". "For someone of his stature not just in the civil rights movement but in voting rights to make a comment that he did not consider Donald Trump to be a legitimate president I think is deeply disappointing. I hope he reconsiders both statements."
Pence said he had attended both of President Barack Obama's inaugurations. He said at a time when the country was facing challenges both at home and abroad, Americans should look for ways to come together and work together.
The 76-year-old Lewis, who has been a civil rights leader for more than half a century, was beaten by police during a march he helped lead in 1965 in Selma, Alabama, drawing attention to hurdles preventing blacks from voting. He protested alongside leader Martin Luther King Jr. that day and on other occasions. The spat comes ahead of Monday's federal holiday that honours King.
Speaking on ABC's "This Week", Priebus said Lewis' comments, given his position in society, were irresponsible.
"We need folks like John Lewis, and others who I think have been champions of voter rights, to actually recognize the fact that Donald Trump was duly elected," said Priebus. "I think putting the United States down across the world is not something that a responsible person does."