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Lewis on Sanders' Civil Rights Activism: 'I Never Saw Him'

Lewis said he never saw Sanders during major civil rights struggles. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., hit Vermont Sen. Bernard Sanders' past activism during the civil rights movement while throwing his support behind former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination.  

Lewis was participating in a press conference on Thursday announcing that the Congressional Black Caucus Political Action Committee was endorsing Clinton. In response to a question from Roll Call about Sanders' previous work on civil rights, Lewis, a civil rights leader who chaired the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and spoke at the 1963 March on Washington, said he did not work with Sanders.  

"I never saw him. I never met him," Lewis said. "I was involved in the Freedom Rides, the March on Washington, the march from Selma to Montgomery and directed the Voter Education Project for six years. But I met Hillary Clinton. I met President Clinton."  

Lewis' remarks contrast with Sanders' frequent highlighting of his record on civil rights. Sanders' campaign website bio shows him as an organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee at the University of Chicago to see Martin Luther King --  and incidentally, Lewis -- speak in 1963.  

Symone Sanders, national press secretary for Sanders, declined to comment.  

The remarks come on the heels of Sanders' victory in the New Hampshire primary and ahead of the South Carolina primary, which comes Feb. 27 for Democrats. CBC PAC chairman Rep. Gregory W. Meeks, D-N.Y., said the PAC would "max out" its donation to Clinton's campaign, at $5,000. In addition, many of the members of the caucus criticized Sanders' policy proposals.  

"Most of the time if it's too good to be true, it's too good to be true," said Rep. Cedric L. Richmond, D-La. "When you say, free college, free health care, the only thing you are leaving out is a free car and a free home. And who's going to pay for it, how are you going to pay for it?"  

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., hit Sanders for his record on guns.  

"Bernie Sanders has not simply been missing in action, he's been on the wrong side," Jeffries said, pointing to his votes against background checks five times and to shield gun manufacturers from liability twice.  

Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, noted that an important rule to follow in politics is to make friends before needing them.  

"Hillary Clinton has made friends with the black community long before needing them now," he said.  

The CBC PAC is the political arm and separate from the Congressional Black Caucus. CBC member Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., has endorsed Sanders.  

Contact Garcia at EricGarcia@cqrollcall.com and follow him on Twitter @EricMGarcia

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