January 10th, 2010
06:44 PM ET
4 years ago

Steele, senator call for Reid to step down over race remark

 Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid should give up his post following publication of remarks he made in 2008 about President Barack Obama, RNC Chairman Michael Steele said Sunday.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid should give up his post following publication of remarks he made in 2008 about President Barack Obama, RNC Chairman Michael Steele said Sunday.

Washington (CNN) - The chairman of the Republican Party and a leading GOP senator called on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to give up his post Sunday, following the publication of remarks he made about President Barack Obama's race in 2008.

The remarks were "embarrassing and racially insensitive," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, head of the GOP's Senate campaign arm, in a statement to CNN.

Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele, on NBC's "Meet the Press," said. "Racism and racist conversations have no place today in America."

Steele was also on the defensive for a remark he made last week that members of both parties have called a racial slur.

Democrats rejected the calls for Reid's dismissal, and Reid's office made clear he has no plans to step down.

"Sen. Reid will stay in his position as Majority Leader and will run for reelection," his spokesman said.

"As the leader in the fight to pass the Voting Rights Act and legislation banning hate crimes, Sen. Reid has a long record of addressing issues that are important to the African-American community. His Republican critics who are looking to politicize the issue can't say the same."

The controversy surrounds remarks published in a new book, "Game Change," which goes on sale Monday. It quotes Reid, D-Nevada, as saying privately in 2008 that Obama could be successful as a black candidate in part because of his "light-skinned" appearance and speaking patterns "with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one."

The authors write that "Reid was convinced, in fact, that Obama's race would help him more than hurt him in a bid for the Democratic nomination."

In a statement to CNN, Reid said, "I deeply regret using such a poor choice of words."

"I sincerely apologize for offending any and all Americans, especially African-Americans for my improper comments. I was a proud and enthusiastic supporter of Barack Obama during the campaign and have worked as hard as I can to advance President Obama's legislative agenda," Reid said.

In his defense, he pointed to his efforts to integrate the Las Vegas strip and the gaming industry, among other legislation favored by African-American voters.

"I have worked hard to advance issues important to the African-American community," he said.

And the senate leader called Obama on Saturday afternoon to apologize for the remarks. In a statement issued after the call, Obama said, "As far as I am concerned, the book is closed."

"Harry Reid called me today and apologized for an unfortunate comment reported today," the president said. "I accepted Harry's apology without question because I've known him for years, I've seen the passionate leadership he's shown on issues of social justice and I know what's in his heart."

An aide to the senator told CNN that Reid also offered apologies to several prominent African-American political figures, including House Democrats Jim Clyburn of South Carolina and Barbara Lee of California; the Rev. Al Sharpton; CNN political contributor and Democratic strategist Donna Brazile; NAACP chairman Julian Bond; and the head of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, Wade Henderson.

Steele, the GOP's first African-American chairman, was asked about the remarks on both "Meet the Press" and "FOX News Sunday." He told NBC Sunday he believes Reid is out of touch with "how African-Americans generally feel" about sensitive issues.

Steele was asked by NBC whether he believes the situation is similar to one involving former Senator Trent Lott, who lost his post as Senate majority leader in 2002 after saying that the nation would have been better off if one-time segregationist candidate Strom Thurmond had been elected president.

"Oh, yeah. There is a big double standard here," Steele said on NBC. He added, "When Democrats get caught saying racist things, you know, an apology is enough." Steele said that if a Republican senator had made the same remark Reid did, Steele himself and the Democratic Party "would be screaming for his head very much as they were with Trent Lott."

Cornyn, in his statement, also accused Democrats of following a "double standard," and noted that they had pushed Lott to step down.

He added that said Reid "has yet to clarify" his remarks. "As we await his explanation, Senator Reid should do the right thing, follow the example that he himself set in 2002, and step down as majority leader."

Gov. Tim Kaine of Virginia, chairman of the Democratic Party, shot back against those arguments. "Anybody looking at Trent Lott's statements praising somebody who had been a pro-segregation candidate for president will see that there is no comparison between those comments and those of Sen. Reid's," he
told NBC.

Kaine said "the case is closed" following Reid's round of apologies. The comments "were in the context of praising the senator and acknowledging that the senator could be a great president but they were still insensitive," Kaine said.

Asked whether Reid should resign, he responded, "Absolutely not," and added, "We're moving on."

Nevada's state Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, who is African-American, reaffirmed his support for Reid in a statement Saturday.

"While I am disappointed in Senator Reid's comment and choice of words, I accept his apology," said Horsford, a Democrat. "I have known Senator Reid for many years and he has consistently been supportive of advancing the interests of the African-American community as he has for all Nevadans and all Americans."

Steele, meanwhile, was asked about his remark in a Fox News interview last week that the GOP platform "is one of the best political documents that's been written in the last 25 years, 'honest injun' on that."

"Fox News Sunday" host Chris Wallace noted that lawmakers from both parties have called that a racial slur.

"Well, if it is, I apologize for it. It's not an intent to be a racial slur. I wasn't intending to say a racial slur at all," Steele said.

Updated: 6:44 p.m.

–CNN's Dana Bash, Mark Preston and Rebecca Sinderbrand contributed to this report.


Filed under: Harry Reid • Michael Steele • Popular Posts • President Obama
soundoff (300 Responses)
  1. Tammy

    What he said was true. It was not offensive, it's what many people think. And all the extreme right-wingers who "want our country back" are really saying why is there a black man in the White House? We want a white man in there.

    January 10, 2010 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  2. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    Michael Steele, I suggest you step down because you are an embarrassment to your party and your own people and your days are numbered.

    January 10, 2010 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  3. byron

    Reid should not quit because of the comment he made of Obama... he should quit because he is a whip who cannot get a grip of his own party in the senate... It's safe to say that Pelosi has more balls than this man.

    January 10, 2010 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  4. Ted

    That is just ridiculous. TMZ in congress

    January 10, 2010 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  5. Gnuut

    I'm sure he views his tenure and accomplishments as having helped the "Negros", and that he is proud of his his racist attitudes.

    January 10, 2010 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  6. Barbara Pearce

    He apologized and seems sincere, that should be enough.

    January 10, 2010 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  7. Jim in Phoenix

    Let me see if I understand this. The party that brought us Barack the Magic Negro wants Harry Reid to step down for his remarks? Just a second...I need to stop laughing

    January 10, 2010 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  8. bigvin

    Imagine if a Republican had made the remark. There would have been protests, calls for immediate resignation, etc. However it was Saint Harry. CAN'T WAIT FOR THE MID-TERM ELECTIONS!!!! TIME TO GET THESE DEMOCRAPS OUT!!!

    January 10, 2010 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  9. jeesh

    Give me a break! While Reid shouldn't have said what he said, it wasn't a "racist" comment. It's ridiculous for Steele to make such a request.

    January 10, 2010 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  10. PJ

    The man from Utah who represents Nevada is as biggited as the man from Utah who lied and represented Massachusetts .....Mitt Romney. You cannot trust people to mix Church and State.

    January 10, 2010 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  11. Gary

    Reid has apologized to everyone - Obama, Julian Bond, Al Sharpton, and on and on. And, they've accepted his apology. Not only was he supporting Obama, he was also making an observation that many African Americans have made. This is exactly the opposite of Trent Lock who was supporting a racist and segregationist and was hardly an advocate for African Americans. Surely, Mr. Steele knows the difference. But, then again, maybe he really doesn't.

    January 10, 2010 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  12. tman

    How could that be offensive?

    January 10, 2010 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  13. JonDie

    Uncle Tom Steele, I suggest you stand down.

    January 10, 2010 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  14. Mike, formerly from Syracuse

    Wonder what the Democratic reaction would have been if a Republican said it. They would have been apoplectic. Remember when Jesse Jackson used the N-word during the campaign? It was news for 3 seconds then forgotten. How about the conservative blacks who voted for Obama just because he's black (as did 95% of the black population). But that's OK. How about the Congressional Black Caucus, of which Obama was a member, who steadfastly refuse to admit whites. Democratic/liberal racial comments and actions shows they are just hypocrites.

    January 10, 2010 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  15. katiec

    Oh for crying out loud. Why in the world does this deserve a headline??
    It is time for us to DEMAND creditibility, accountability and integrity from the media. Their sensationalizing, constantly headlining lies without ever fact checking, showing bias has to stop but will not unless we let them know we no longer accept their lack of honor.

    January 10, 2010 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  16. EasyWriter

    Let he who is without sin cast the first stone!!!

    January 10, 2010 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  17. DT

    Right. GOPpers foster so much racism it stinks. they should clean up their own house first.

    January 10, 2010 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  18. Kimber

    After all these years someone is always gonna use the racist card! Let's leave the "big problems"...such as this.. to all our fine politicians since they can't figure out much else.

    January 10, 2010 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  19. Geithner the Tax Cheat

    The race card is a one way street in America. It is only thrown when it can serve the card holders needs. Had a Republican made the same comments there would be a full blown Senate investigation Monday first thing.

    January 10, 2010 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  20. K

    Come on Steele, keep your eye on the ball or Reid and Pelosie are going to get another four years. If the republicans want any glimpse of success in the future YOU need to step down. Here's a hint, if the Dems ever figure out how to be fiscally responsible, the republicans are done for. The 2 party system will be left up to the crazy religious right (Palin) and the rest of us fiscally responsible conservative democrats. So shut your trap and do some thing!!!

    January 10, 2010 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  21. Adnan

    This is dirty politics and a suggestion for Reid to step down coming from Steele is messed up.

    The guy apologized, Obama accepted.

    This seems like another GOP attempt to stall health reform or just to nab at the democrats.

    I think democrat's policies have been much in the interest of African Americans, much more then GOP policies.

    I think GOP needs to re-evaluate its political strategies as well as intent.

    January 10, 2010 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  22. MrJD

    What happened to Trent Lott was a travesty. He was praising a universally respected old Senator on his birthday, and it was clear that he wasn't thinking about Thurmond's ancient politics when he said what he said. He was just saying that Thurmond was a great guy, which is what everyone in the room was saying on that day. The whole nation had moved on from Thurmond's older politics by that time. Reid, in contrast, directly addressed race. There is no ambiguity in his meaning. So yes, there is a big difference between the two – Reid is much worse.

    January 10, 2010 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  23. atc333

    I love the GOP, always stirring the pot! I find the "Liar" accusation in open congress which occurred several months ago much more offensive than an observation of certain facts which are relevant during a hard fought political campaign. This society is not yet color blind, but it is changing over time. I wonder what policitacl party most racist people belong to? That would be an interesting survey.

    January 10, 2010 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  24. Melissa

    At least Democrats will admit the mistake and apologize. Republicans make mistakes, and if called on it, scream that the detractors are un-American and traitors. After all – the main uproar for the GOP and their "teabagger" supporters are based on the fact that a black man is President. The vast majority of issues they protest were put in place by Bush, or also existed under Bush.

    January 10, 2010 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  25. Rachel Volpe

    Can not understand why Reid should not resign. This man's conduct is pompous regardless if he is dealing with Rep or Dems. He is self appointed royalty, he is corrupt and his recent bribery of the Neb senator is deplorable. I don't care what party you are, if you claim to have any American blood, you should be appalled at this. This is not who we are and Washington, day after day, exhibits behavior that shows total disregard for both parties....it is time we clean house as the Constitution was written. The document is what makes us different. Let's eliminate corruption.....Thank you

    January 10, 2010 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
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