Tennessee congressman to skip Trump inauguration

January 16, 2017

Speaking at the Memphis church where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his final speech, a Tennessee congressman said Monday that he will boycott President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration in support of his colleague and civil rights icon John Lewis.

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen said it had been a “borderline” call for him on whether to attend Trump’s swearing in Friday but what Trump “did to John Lewis, that was it.”

“This president ‘semi-elect’ does not deserve to be president of the United States,” Cohen said in his speech on the holiday devoted to King’s legacy. “He has not exhibited the characteristics or the values that we hold dear. That Dr. King held dear. That John Lewis holds dear. And when he questioned John Lewis, that crossed the Rubicon.”

In denouncing Trump, Cohen contrasted him to outgoing President Barack Obama, saying the nation’s first black president ran on a campaign of “hope and change” in 2008.

“But at this time in our history, hope and change have unfortunately become fear and dread,” said Cohen, a Memphis Democrat. “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream is turning into a nightmare.”

Shelby County Commissioner Terry Roland, who headed up Trump’s campaign in western Tennessee, tweeted in response that he would represent Cohen’s district at the inauguration, The Commercial Appeal reported. “Maybe I can be more effective,” he added.

Trump easily carried Tennessee in November in winning the White House.

Cohen joins a growing number of Democratic lawmakers who announced plans to skip Trump’s inauguration. Cohen, who is white and represents a district where African-Americans are the majority, spoke at historic Mason Temple church. King gave his famed “mountaintop” speech at the Mason Temple the night before his assassination in Memphis on April 4, 1968.

In an interview Monday, Cohen said Trump’s criticism of Lewis, a Georgia congressman, showed that the incoming Republican president is “unfit for the office.”

Trump’s attack was in response to Lewis’ comments that he doesn’t consider Trump a “legitimate president” because of Russian meddling in last year’s election.

Trump tweeted that Lewis “should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results.” Trump added: “All talk, talk, talk — no action or results. Sad!”

Lewis, among the most revered leaders of the civil rights movement, suffered a skull fracture during the march in Selma, Alabama, more than a half-century ago and has devoted his life to promoting equal rights for African-Americans.

“John Lewis has always been a man of action,” Cohen said.

Cohen said he doesn’t worry about retaliation against his district by Trump’s administration for his denunciation of the incoming president.

“I think most of what Trump’s going to do is going to be bad for my district anyway,” he said.