President Donald Trump shared a brief message to Rep. John Lewis' family on Twitter Saturday afternoon, hours after Lewis' death late Friday night. Trump was noticeably silent for hours Saturday morning while he took another golf trip, although the American flag over the White House was flown at half-staff. Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany also posted a Twitter message, calling Lewis an "icon of the civil rights movement."
"Saddened to hear the news of civil rights hero John Lewis passing. Melania and I send our prayers to he and his family," reads the message posted on Trump's account. In McEnany's message, the White House said Lewis leaves "an enduring legacy that will never be forgotten," adding, "We hold his family in our prayers, as we remember Rep. John Lewis' incredible contributions to our country."
Lewis died on Friday night at 80, following a battle with stage IV pancreatic cancer. The longtime Georgia Congressman was a civil rights icon and the youngest speaker at the 1963 March on Washington, where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I have a dream" speech. Lewis was among the first Freedom Riders and helped lead marchers from Selma to Montgomery. He was beaten while leading marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge and wore the scars of the beating for the rest of his life. In 1986, he was elected to Congress for the first time and was re-elected 16 times.
"It is with inconsolable grief and enduring sadness that we announce the passing of U.S. Rep. John Lewis," Lewis' family said in a statement. "He was honored and respected as the conscience of the US Congress and an icon of American history, but we knew him as a loving father and brother. He was a stalwart champion in the on-going struggle to demand respect for the dignity and worth of every human being. He dedicated his entire life to nonviolent activism and was an outspoken advocate in the struggle for equal justice in America. He will be deeply missed."
Lewis was critical of Trump, boycotting the president's inauguration and told NBC News he did not see Trump as a "legitimate president" due to Russia's meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Trump responded to Lewis' criticism by telling the Congressman to "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."
In June, amid the protests of police brutality and racism, Lewis asked Trump not to crack down on the "orderly, peaceful, nonviolent protests," adding, "You cannot stop the call of history." Lewis told CBS News it was "very moving, very moving to see hundreds and thousands of people from all over America and around the world take to the streets to speak up, to speak out."
Presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Jimmy Carter also issued statements on Lewis' death. "He loved this country so much that he risked his life and his blood so that it might live up to its promise," Obama wrote in his tribute. "And through the decades, he not only gave all of himself to the cause of freedom and justice but inspired generations that followed to try to live up to his example."