WASHINGTON (CNN) – Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D Nevada, took great exception Sunday to suggestions that he does not want another African-American to replace President-elect Barack Obama in the U.S. Senate.
Confronted with a recent report from the Chicago Sun Times that he spoke with Illinois Gov. Blagojevich and suggested that Blagojevich pass over three African-American men and instead consider naming one of two Caucasian women, Reid essentially called the embattled governor a liar.
“This is part of Blagojevich’s cloud,” Reid said in an interview Sunday. “He’s making all this up,” Reid added. “I didn’t tell him who not to appoint.”
The Democrats’ leader in the Senate said he had one phone conversation with Blagojevich about possible replacements for Obama and likened that conversation to his conversations with New York Gov. David Paterson about replacing Sen. Hillary Clinton and with Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter about replacing Sen. Ken Salazar.
“’Make sure you give us someone who can hit the ground running,’” Reid says he told Blagojevich in that conversation.
While the Nevada Democrat acknowledged that “of course we’re concerned about what happens in 2010,” he denied that concerns about the ability of the African-American contenders to win a statewide election in two years had anything to do with plans by Senate Democrats not to seat Roland Burris. Burris, like the three men referenced in the Sun Times report, is African-American.
“This has nothing to do with 2010 and has everything to do with a corrupt governor,” Reid said Sunday.
Reid specifically mentioned Illinois Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. who was among the three African-American men mentioned in The Sun Times report. Congressman Jackson “is someone that I think would make a good senator,” said Reid. “For Blagojevich to be throwing out these names of people I wanted and didn’t want, he’s making it up.”
Reminded that his phone conversation with Blagojevich was likely recorded because of U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald’s ongoing criminal investigation of the Illinois governor’s conduct, Reid said simply “That’s right and that’s why, what’s he’s saying, he’s making it up.”
Reid also detailed his record of support for African-American political candidates like Ron Kirk of Texas and Harold Ford of Tennessee, who were both unsuccessful in bids for the Senate.
While Reid repeatedly denied that race entered into his discussion with Blagojevich, he also said he “did not remember what was [specifically] in the conversation other than the generalities I just talked about.”
In addition to Jackson, the Sun Times reported that Blagojevich was considering Illinois Rep. Dan Davis and state Sen. Emil Jones, a longtime political mentor of President-elect Obama, at the time Reid spoke with the governor. Instead of any of these three African-American politicians, the Sun Times said Reid suggested Blagojevich name Tammy Duckworth, the current head of Veterans Affairs in Illinois who lost both legs while serving in the military in Iraq, or Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. Duckworth and Madigan are both white.
Until he resigned after being elected president, Obama was the only African-American serving in the Senate.
Some political observers have suggested that racial considerations played a role in Blagojevich’s decision to name Burris. In addition to the federal corruption investigation, Blagojevich faces the possibility of being impeached and ultimately removed from office by the Illinois Legislature for an alleged plan to trade an appointment to Obama’s open seat for political favors.
Led by Illinois Rep.Bobby Rush, some elected African-American politicians and community leaders in Illinois have rallied around Burris, notwithstanding Blagojevich’s problems, and openly suggested that another African-American should occupy Obama’s seat.
Reid responded to the Sun Times report on NBC’s “Meet the Press” with host David Gregory.