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. Can we just stop already

    These rethug terrorists are always calling for someone's resignation but always finding excuses not to resign themselves. Sanford, Ensin, and even Steele himself.

    Hey repugs, how about holding your ownselve's accountable to the american people (not just those you deem to be american)? Just a thought since you live in glass houses.

    January 10, 2010 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  2. Hypocracy Test

    How hard is it to be consistent in your standards? If Trent Lott should have stepped down after his offhand remarks about Strom Thurmond's judgement during his birthday celebration, then shouldn't Harry Reid step down for his offhand remarks about the chances of Barack Obama winning the presidency (in spite of being black)? If you find it hard to be consistent on this matter (and only you know your position on these two parallel events) then you probably are a hypocrit.

    January 10, 2010 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  3. DJ

    What happened with Trent Lott is actually kind of weird, when you think about it. Everyone went after Lott, but no one seemed interested in going after Thurmond. And let's not forget that the reason Strom Thurmond dumped the Democrats and became a Republican was because the Democrats weren't racist enough in the 1950's. Those saying the Dems will pay a high price for this healthcare reform are forgetting that they also paid a high price for desegregation, but few would say that the Civil Rights Act was a horrible thing. The liberals always end up the good guys when history is written.

    January 10, 2010 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |
  4. I wish I was Just Like My Hero Sarah, then I become the President and I Could Be In Control of Thousands of Nukes

    It was a private stupid remark. He apologized. But of course, the Partisan Party, can't let it go.

    Let's see which party is less inclusive of minorities . . . you only get one guess . . .

    January 10, 2010 05:02 pm at 5:02 pm |
  5. Ms. M

    I don't think so! Just want to open one more spot for the Republicans to try to gain control. I bet he would not be surprised by things that are said about him by his own party members behind closed doors. We have a race problem in American. True! Let's focus on positive solutions instead of trying to use this as a political ploy to gain control. I agree with Byron. However, I would suggest that they all (Republicans and Democrates) quit because they are embarrasing to this country. It is time start over with fresh, results-oriented people. Can we say TERM limits!!! Like 2 and that is it. They are all making careers out of the issues that affect our lives. They do not care. They have the salaries that exceed 95% of Americans plus excellent benefits that we pay for but they deliver horrible stuff to us. -

    January 10, 2010 05:08 pm at 5:08 pm |
  6. S M R

    Step down for a Racial comment, Get real!!!

    January 10, 2010 05:10 pm at 5:10 pm |
  7. Peter s

    GOP should is trying to divert attention!!! Steele and your southern angry men please first solve your internal problems before you speak on behalf of the democrates!

    January 10, 2010 05:14 pm at 5:14 pm |
  8. Rev. J.J. Johnson

    I don't care what is said, or who say's it, the President of the United States is "Barack Obama." With all the problems we are facing, as Americans, if we can't come together, work together, and solve these problems together, we will never progress.

    January 10, 2010 05:16 pm at 5:16 pm |
  9. j

    That's just plain silly. Reid made an accurate, if not sad, statement. The conservatives are off the mark, as usual.

    January 10, 2010 05:24 pm at 5:24 pm |
  10. smilearth

    Steele should resign or else some one will kick him out any way before February 15, 2010.

    January 10, 2010 05:28 pm at 5:28 pm |
  11. Marie MD

    Hey steele, if reid has to go because of his comments then make sure he takes bachman, mccain, wilson, boner and other repugs who have been asking for a revolution against our government. That worries me more than what some old geeser thinks of our President. BTW – never mind, you have to know why you are in power. Being from MD I almost, almost feel for you.

    January 10, 2010 05:29 pm at 5:29 pm |
  12. shs

    Speaking of double standards, did any media on the Sunday talk shows ask Steele about his recent "honest Injun" comment and why that wouldn't oblige him to step down from his post?

    January 10, 2010 05:30 pm at 5:30 pm |
  13. Peter E

    Reid should step down, but not because of one inconsequential comment. Is there a single politician out there who hasn't made such insensitive comments before? Of course not! Reid should step down because he's the most incompetent senate majority leader congress has seen in at least two decades! He has been running the senate into the groun, thinking in 2008 the people elected HIM. No! The people elected Obama, and the senate has just been exploiting that for their own power! Reid needs to go! And for the same reason, Pelosi too!

    January 10, 2010 05:30 pm at 5:30 pm |
  14. gary davis Harbor Oregon proud american

    this idiot can't make up his mind he is either a black man working for a purist party , or he is a black man with racial issues . in a white mans club GOP . so Mr. Steele why not shut up , and go back to doing what your white purist club people tell you what to do other than going after Harry Ried . you are a joke and it is sad you need to work for the white purist party of NO you are educated and really don't need to be the toby for the whites only party . so why not come over to the party that actually cares who you really are . an educated proffessional that has fallen to the DARK SIDE :)

    January 10, 2010 05:36 pm at 5:36 pm |
  15. Liberal wingnut

    The media isn't going to challenge Reid are you serious?

    January 10, 2010 05:39 pm at 5:39 pm |
  16. Julie Thomas

    Steele is a hypocrit, just like so many in the RNC; if everyone stepped down who has spoken ill of others, then there would be many empty seats in congress starting with his. Pathetic.

    January 10, 2010 05:49 pm at 5:49 pm |
  17. once upon a horse

    Come on Steele let's be serious here..since WHEN has any Republican cared if something negative was said about President Obama??? They have not agreed nor backed him on ANYTHING he's done or said since he took office and NOW you're going to come running to his defense? PLEASE..just go away and help the GOP destroy itself like you've been doing

    January 10, 2010 05:51 pm at 5:51 pm |
  18. thanks, but no thanks

    Dear Mr. Steele,

    people have already spoken. And they will speak with louder voice in the next election. The reason that we have Mr. Obama as our present president is not that only people of color voted for him. If you have not learned that lesson, you are in for a big surprise this year. We the people are not going to fall for the small time politics anymore. We will vote in people who have the interest of all Americans in mind. Playing the race card did not work in November of 2008, it will not work in November 2010. You are just a pathetic little man as your Republican friends who can not own to their mistakes.

    January 10, 2010 05:54 pm at 5:54 pm |
  19. Superloulou

    So now "Uncle tom" Steele wants to meddle in the Dems' business.
    Does he now he is the GOP's affirmative action water boy?

    January 10, 2010 05:55 pm at 5:55 pm |
  20. LoveThyNeighbor

    I guess it doesn't take much for the Relics to jump on the resignation bandwagon. Obama accepted Reids apology, that's all that is of concern here. Move on with the business at hand or get out of the way with the obstructions and let others continue America forward. The dark ages are long gone. There are people suffering over worse things and they need to be addressed instead of this "bulling/playground" crap! Sam

    January 10, 2010 06:03 pm at 6:03 pm |
  21. once upon a horse

    yet these same right wingers have no problem when similar things are said by the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. I doubt if President Obama is looking for any support or sympathy from the GOP in this issue.

    January 10, 2010 06:08 pm at 6:08 pm |
  22. usualone

    Harry Reid was trying to show why he thought Mr. Obama could become President Obama. His words were crude but they were honest on how way too many people feel. He was not speaking about his own opinion. Unfortunately, too many Americans stereo-type others and have wrong assumptions about all minorities. President Obama was able to reach enough people who listened to his words and didn't judge him by his appearance and/or speech pattern. It is obvious from many, many blogs that people contain hatred for anyone that is different from them. They express themselves in many ways that are not constructive. It is wonderful that there were enough intelligent Americans to not judge the future President by his looks and dialect. We have a long way to go to get over the inherent prejudices in so many Americans.

    January 10, 2010 06:08 pm at 6:08 pm |
  23. all the news that's fit to omit

    Are you gutless liberals happy that Bill Clinton said to a very angry Ted Kennedy "This guy would have been getting us a coffee a few years ago" in REGARDS TO BARACK H OBAMA?

    Nah, just another day in liberalcowardville.

    You people ought to be ashamed and for the gutless one that called Steele an "Uncle Tom", you lack any real class or dignity and are a libtard bigot.

    This was a Republican you cowards would be singing a different tune and so would Obama, I FACT OBAMA DID IN 2002 and SO DID REID, DO SOME HOMEWORK LOSERS, they BOTH wanted Lott OUT.

    January 10, 2010 06:09 pm at 6:09 pm |
  24. vicki

    Gads what a a strange thing for Steele to ask...when the GOP house is a total mess and continues to reek of racism to the very core.

    January 10, 2010 06:09 pm at 6:09 pm |
  25. Paul ~ nyc

    He was just stating the obvious, and he was right. Maybe he didnt say it in the best way, maybe there is no PC way to say it aloud, but all he said was what many were thinking when Obama ran. I really didnt feel at all that he was being intentionally racist. Racially insensitive may be a better way to put it, but im not sure it was even that far. Im not republican, but come on, give the guy a break.

    January 10, 2010 06:11 pm at 6:11 pm |
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