CNN commentator Jeffrey Lord found himself at the receiving end of scathing criticism after he compared President Donald Trump to civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr., during a segment on Alisyn Camerota’s “New Day” on Thursday morning.
Calling Trump the “Martin Luther King of health care” in the segment, Lord compared his method of obtaining support for the repeal of Obamacare to the civil rights activist's direct action.
“When I was a kid, President Kennedy did not want to introduce the civil rights bill because he said it wasn’t popular, he didn’t have the votes for it, et cetera,” Lord said during his Skype appearance. “Dr. King kept putting people in the streets in harm's way to put the pressure on so that the bill would be introduced. That's what finally worked.”
Democratic activist and fellow CNN commentator Symone Sanders hit back at Lord immediately, saying, “So let’s not equate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a humanitarian and Nobel Peace Prize winner, to the vagina-grabbing President Donald Trump.”
CNN brought Lord back later in the evening to follow up on his comments from earlier in the day. Anchor Anderson Cooper said, “Jeff I want to give you a chance to explain yourself, what you meant by your earlier comments.”
“I wasn’t comparing President Trump and Dr. King,” Lord said, as he added, “who, by the way, the latter, was a hero of mine when I was a kid.”
Lord, who served as the White House political adviser in former President Ronald Reagan's administration, also wrote a piece for CNN, explaining his position in greater detail. In the piece, Lord explained that during the discussion on an article by the Wall Street Journal, which said Trump was forcing Democrats into negotiations with the threat of withholding payments, he compared the actions to King’s strategy outlined in his 1963 letter from Birmingham Jail.
In the letter, King said direct action was used “to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.”
He explained further, “So must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. The purpose of our direct-action program is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation.”
The Journal’s article said the president was “threatening to withhold payments to insurers to force Democrats to the negotiating table.” Further, it added that their “abrupt disappearance [from the marketplace] could trigger an insurance meltdown that causes the collapse of the 2010 health law, forcing lawmakers to return to a bruising debate over its future.”
Lord acknowledged the goals of the two leaders were different but maintained that the strategy of using crisis to bring parties to the negotiating table was common to both. He defended himself by saying: “And there is nothing in the least wrong in saying so.”
During the evening segment, CNN contributor Bakari Sellers countered Lord, saying his comments were a disgrace to King’s legacy and an example of the ignorance that came in with Trump’s presidency. He added: “This crisis you’re talking about creating – it got four little girls blown up in a church. It got people assassinated, including Dr. King.”