WASHINGTON — On Friday, Representative John Lewis, Democrat of Georgia, declared that he did not view Donald J. Trump as a “legitimate president.” Mr. Lewis, an icon of the civil rights movement, said he planned to boycott the inauguration, the first he will skip in three decades.
On Saturday, Mr. Trump hit back.
“Congressman John 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,” Mr. Trump said in a pair of early morning Twitter posts.
“All talk, talk, talk — no action or results,” he added. “Sad!”
While some, including David Axelrod, a former senior adviser to President Obama, said they were uncomfortable with Mr. Lewis’s assertion, Mr. Trump’s outburst drew indignation from many people who pointed out the unseemliness of attacking a civil rights leader on the eve of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Mr. Lewis was one of the original Freedom Riders, beaten by police officers while marching from Selma to Montgomery in Alabama.
Others ridiculed Mr. Trump’s characterization of Mr. Lewis’s district, which is majority African-American and encompasses three-quarters of Atlanta, as “horrible,” “falling apart” and “crime infested.” While Georgia’s Fifth Congressional District faces challenges typical of many urban areas, it also includes wealthy neighborhoods like Buckhead; the world’s busiest airport, Hartsfield-Jackson; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Some pointed out that fighting with Mr. Lewis distracted attention from a Senate investigation, announced the day before, that will look at possible contacts between Mr. Trump’s campaign team and Russia. In addition, Mr. Trump’s poll numbers have slipped into uncharted depths for an incoming president, with a Gallup poll released on Friday finding that about half of Americans disapprove of Mr. Trump’s transition effort. Some also noted that Mr. Trump had questioned the legitimacy of Mr. Obama’s presidency with false claims about his birthplace.
Mr. Trump’s feud with Mr. Lewis carried echoes of his attacks on Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the Pakistani-American parents of an American soldier killed in Iraq, after Mr. Khan spoke out against Mr. Trump at the Democratic National Convention. Those attacks were widely viewed to have backfired, and Mr. Trump later modulated his words about the Khans.
Mr. Lewis, who is 76 and was first elected to Congress in 1987, is one of the few genuinely historic figures on Capitol Hill, revered by Democrats and Republicans alike. Allies of Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama and Mr. Trump’s nominee for attorney general, circulated pictures of him linking arms with Mr. Lewis at the 50th anniversary of the Selma march to fend off accusations that Mr. Sessions was a racist.
Nevertheless, Mr. Lewis testified against Mr. Sessions, declaring, “We need someone as attorney general who’s going to look out for all of us, and not just some of us.”
A few critics, including Mr. Axelrod, said they disagreed with Mr. Lewis’s statement that Mr. Trump was not legitimate, which he made in an interview with Chuck Todd of NBC News and which will be broadcast on “Meet the Press” on Sunday.
Still, Mr. Axelrod said of Mr. Lewis: “I honor the man he is. Honesty; integrity; courage — these are qualities you can’t buy.”
In his interview with Mr. Todd, Mr. Lewis said he believed that the Russians had delivered the election to Mr. Trump. “You know, I believe in forgiveness,” he said. “I believe in trying to work with people. It will be hard. It’s going to be very difficult. I don’t see this president-elect as a legitimate president.”
Mr. Lewis is one of a handful of Democratic members of Congress who have announced that they will boycott the inauguration on Friday. Others include Barbara Lee of California, Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, Katherine Clark of Massachusetts and Luis Gutiérrez of Illinois.
The New York Times