10 Times Rep. John Lewis Spoke Truth to Power During the Trump Administration

When Congressman John Lewis celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act in 2015, he stood beside Barack Obama, the first African-American president, and Loretta Lynch, the first African-American woman to serve as U.S. attorney general, during a ceremony in the White House complex.

“The struggle for the right to vote has been a long, hard, tedious struggle to redeem the soul of America. And the struggle is not over,” Lewis said. “We’re still trying to build a true democracy in our country to let every citizen have a voice in the political process.”

Nearly five years later, Lewis’ words ring even more true: The current administration has attacked the right to vote and our democracy by setting up the sham Pence-Kobach voting commission (though it was quickly dissolved because of pressure from civil rights groups), appointing lifetime federal judges with anti-voting rights records, attempting to sabotage the 2020 Census, and reversing longstanding positions in voting rights cases – all while Trump’s Justice Department, under Sessions and Barr, has filed zero Voting Rights Act cases on behalf of voters of color or people with limited English proficiency. And in Congress, as the House passes important voting rights and election security bills like the For the People Act (H.R. 1), the Voting Rights Advancement Act (H.R. 4), and the SHIELD Act (H.R. 4617), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has refused to consider them.

The Trump administration may be attacking the right to vote (and attacking Lewis – remember this?), but the congressman and civil rights icon has not remained silent.

On his 80th birthday, here are 10 times Congressman Lewis has spoken truth to power during the Trump administration:

1. When he testified against Jeff Sessions’ attorney general nomination (read his written testimony here).

“It doesn’t matter how Senator Sessions may smile, how friendly he may be, how he may speak to you, but we need someone who’s going to stand up, speak up, and speak out for the people that need help. For the people who’ve been discriminated against. And it doesn’t matter whether they are Black or White, Latino, Asian American, or Native American. Whether they’re straight or gay, Muslim, Christian, or Jews. We all live in the same house. The American house. We need someone as Attorney General who’s going to look out for all of us. Not just for some of us.”

2. When he stood up for LGBTQ equality before the House vote on the Equality Act.

3. When he called out the leaders of Trump’s voting commission for having “a history, a long history, of making it harder…for people to participate in the democractic process.”

4. When he called on the House to pass the Voting Rights Advancement Act (H.R. 4) to fully restore the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

5. When he spoke out against Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

I fought too hard and too long to back down now. I will fight any bill that turns the clock back to a darker time….I will fight every day, every hour, every minute, and every second. I oppose this deal with every breath and every bone in my body. We must not give up. We cannot. I will not give in. Not today, not tomorrow, and never, ever. On this bill there is only one option, and that option is to vote ‘no’. We can do better, Mr. Speaker. We must do better. Vote ‘no’ on this bill.”

6. When he spoke on the House floor in support of the For the People Act (H.R. 1).

7. When he defended Reps. Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley, Omar, and Tlaib against the president’s attacks.

“We heard this during the 60s when little children were trying to desegregate schools, when we were trying to desegregate lunch counters and restaurants, when we were trying to get the right to vote – to go back. We’re not going back. We’re here to stay. What he said, and what he continues to say, is racist. It is racism. You cannot hide it. You cannot sweep it under the American rug.”

8. When he powerfully urged people to vote on Election Day 2018.

9. When he criticized the president for calling some African nations “sh*thole countries.”

“I think the words and his actions tend to speak like one who knows something about being a racist. It must be in his DNA, in his makeup, but it’s frightening to have someone in the office of the president in 2018 speaking the way that he’s speaking. We’ve come too far, we’ve made too much progress, to go back, to fan the flames of racism and bigotry.”

10. When he told his colleagues that “we have a mission and a mandate to be on the right side of history” before the House impeachment vote.