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The civil rights leader passed away last week. His body was lying in state at the US Capitol on Monday and politicians – from presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his wife to the Vice President Mike Pence – visited to pay their respects.
When asked if he planned to visit the civil rights leader’s body, Mr Trump told reporters that he was not.
According to Johnathn Lemire, an Associated Press White House correspondent, Mr Trump’s aides were surprised by the president’s answer.
“I was on the White House lawn when we asked if the president was going to attend to pay his respects to the congressman lying in state at the Capitol, and he said no,” Mr Lemire said during an appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. ”That took aides by surprise because there had been discussions about the president going over there at some point today, they thought that might be something he would want to do. We should note that Vice President Pence, who served with Congressman Lewis in the house, did go over there yesterday. “
Joe Scarborough, the host of Morning Joe, asked Mr Lemire if Mr Trump was afraid that visiting the black civil rights leader’s body would hurt him with his white supporters.
“Publicly, White House aides are saying it’s the president’s decision, privately there is some frustration,” Mr Lemire said. “They do feel that the president is too mindful of that, the signal he might be sending to white voters. And also it’s someone with whom he feuded before, we know how he holds grudges. We know that he did the same when Senator McCain died, he did not attend or pay his respects in any public way then either. He had to be convinced to put the flag at half-mast at the White House when Senator McCain died. For Congressman Lewis, it was put at half-mast but only half a day.”
On the day Mr Lewis died, Mr Trump did not issue a statement acknowledging the lawmaker’s death for 12 hours, despite being active on Twitter during that time period.
Mr Trump and Mr Lewis sparred in the press in 2017, when Mr Lewis said he would skip the president’s inauguration.
Mr Lewis believed that Mr Trump’s presidency was illegitimate and the product of Russian interference in the election.
“I don’t see this president-elect as a legitimate president,” Mr Lewis said in a 2017 interview with MSNBC’s Meet the Press. ”I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected and they have destroyed the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.”
Mr Trump responded by calling Mr Lewis “all talk ... no action or results”.
Mr Lemire said that Mr Trump’s decision not to visit Mr Lewis’ s was part of the president’s intensifying culture war strategy heading into the 2020 US election.
“You’re right,” he continued. “There’s a growing recognition among his advisers, that they’re going to lean into the cultural efforts, the preservations of the statues, confederate bases and the real push of law and order using federal troops in the cities, most notably Portland. It’s part of a piece, a signal to white and suburban voters, the same ones he’s trying to court there, we’ve seen out of the 1950s, a message to white families about black and brown families moving to the suburbs. To this point the polling has not suggested that’s working.”