January 10th, 2010
06:44 PM ET
8 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. JM

    Who is he kidding? Cornyn wasn't offended. He's just trying to stir the pot. As for Steele, well he's just an idiot you can't even stand up to members of his own party. Why pay attention to anything he says??

    As I said before, Reid apologized, Obama was okay with what was said, so why are we still talking about it?? Answer: Republicans just want to stir the mountain and make a little molehill into a great big mountain. Get a life, Republicans and do something worthwhile with your time instead of crying over spilled milk so to speak.

    January 10, 2010 06:12 pm at 6:12 pm |

    when i was a small boy i ask my father how the two parties got started. he looked at me and grined and said sone to start with everyone had a big bag of marbles and they started this big marble game and it was for keeps; he said that he was a very good player and won lots do marbles so when a person lost all of thier marbles he became a democrat. he said looking back he wished he had not been such a good player... AND NOW YOU KNOW THE REST OF THE STORY

    January 10, 2010 06:14 pm at 6:14 pm |
  3. cjg

    Don't know why this has to be rehashed , we heard this all before during the election. It was not offensive just maybe not very tacfful , but not racist.
    I personally would like for all of the GOP to step aside and let some progress be made .....they are just all stumbling blocks to everything Obama trys to do!

    January 10, 2010 06:14 pm at 6:14 pm |
  4. shmeckell

    I don't like reed but all he did was state a fact and he was correct. He only apologized because he is white. What a croc

    January 10, 2010 06:14 pm at 6:14 pm |
  5. Jose

    Hey – do you think it would be possible if we used this quote for like educating the American public. Oh wait, but that wouldn't aid the self serving republicans would it? My gawd people – grow up a little. Reid is a jackbehind for saying it but the republicans are the same for using it as a tool to divide and conquer.

    January 10, 2010 06:14 pm at 6:14 pm |
  6. jeff

    "He's light skinned and doesn't have a negro dialect?" Really? And no one but republicans are saying it's a big deal? I couldn't say that at my job without some sort of reprimand or worse. Democrats, and blacks obviously, don't care as long as it's one of them. As long as they have something to lose by having a back bone. All of you screaming about racist republicans are obviously brain washed or stupid. maybe both.

    January 10, 2010 06:17 pm at 6:17 pm |
  7. Just Me

    These Republicans are quite funny...arent they? The gall to call for Reid's head when they are against everything the President does. Like they care about the President to begin. This is some hipocritical nonsense if u ask me.

    These people would be all too happy if the President polices "fail". And now they are all acting like they are offended by what Reid said. Please... The Repblicans are nothing but a bunch of low belly crawling snakes who would bite a baby in their cribs just because they could. In this case, they are desperately trying to gain political points even when the circustances are just riduclous

    January 10, 2010 06:25 pm at 6:25 pm |
  8. TM

    After all the racist comments that came from the teabaggers and the republican town hall meetings, the GOP has a of gall calling for Reid to step down. Where was the GOP outrage when Bachmann, Palin, Cantor, and Boehner were saying far worse?

    January 10, 2010 06:25 pm at 6:25 pm |
  9. ShiWms Phx AZ

    Reid will be in line right behind Robot steele to get the ax.

    January 10, 2010 06:29 pm at 6:29 pm |
  10. Jean 2

    I am a 71 year old black woman. I have lived worked and attended universities through all of the name changes. aone thing I know for sure isthat it does not matter what we are called we are still black in America with all of it's trappings.

    We should stop letting these kind of things distract us from the real issues, education, jobs,etc. The media pundits are foaming at the mouth and playing it over and over to fill their poor NEWS coverage.

    Reid spoke the truth.

    January 10, 2010 06:35 pm at 6:35 pm |
  11. S Callahan NYS censoring stinks!

    This is just the reason so many democracts have swtiched to the Repbulicans....always trying to justify a hurt, a lie, a decption. What Mr. Reid said was wrong, and in any other enviroment he would have had his butt kicked for saying it. I'm sorry....but if this was your son they were talking about ...would you feel it was okay. Yeah, I didn't think so.

    January 10, 2010 06:38 pm at 6:38 pm |
  12. Jacqui

    What mistake? He spoke the truth. I am black and from a different country and I could tell by just listening, whether a black person was speaking, with more than 90% accuracy.

    Stop this nonsense, and look at the real issues which this man is diligently working for.

    January 10, 2010 06:40 pm at 6:40 pm |
  13. Edwin

    I like Jim from Phoenix's comments. The GOP defended the song "Barack the Magic Negro" , from the album 'We Hate the USA,' when Chip Saltsman sent it out as a Christmas gift in 2008. Clearly, the attack is politically based, not based on any sense of real outrage. Of course, the Dems would do the same if the situation were reversed, for the same reasons. Why worry about real issues when you can score points by attacking a few words?

    Judge Reid for his actions, not a few words. I do not personally know his record with regard to race legislation, but that is what you should look at when deciding to condemn or not condemn.

    January 10, 2010 06:42 pm at 6:42 pm |
  14. Accountability

    Incredible... the party of the Teabaggers who consistently bring monkey dolls in nooses to their rallies is calling on Reid to resign for a comment that is over a year old....

    Is it just me or does it feel like Alice Through the Looking Glass?

    January 10, 2010 06:45 pm at 6:45 pm |
  15. BillybobTIREDOFFstoopidrethuglicans!

    Don't worry...no one in their right mind would ever again endorse a Cheney.

    January 10, 2010 06:45 pm at 6:45 pm |
  16. jules sand-perkins

    Please, Mr. Steele, stop making our party apprear to be absurd with your racist politics.
    I have known since the 1950s that there are things I cannot, or should not, say as a white man, but that African-Americans can say with impunity.
    Reid said something inappropriate, but I do not think that he meant it as a racist remark with a bad intention.
    However, what Mr. Steele said about the Reid quote was designed to inflame racist passions in the interest of–God help mt party–Republican politics.
    Please, Mr. Steele, just get out of the Republicans' way with your astounding lack of taste and awareness.

    January 10, 2010 06:48 pm at 6:48 pm |
  17. Marti Perez

    I know John Cornyn's a typical Republican hypocrite who would choke on the truth if it ever dared try to come out of his mouth. What the hell is Steele's gig? He's got the most interesting case of Tourette's Syndrome I've ever seen. And Senator Reid? He should keep his mouth shut in public and private about race. Don't even go there, pops.

    January 10, 2010 06:49 pm at 6:49 pm |
  18. MsDp

    I only wish that this idiot would get off the TV and go away;
    better yet, STEELE should quit because he is an IDIOT!!!!

    January 10, 2010 06:49 pm at 6:49 pm |
  19. Sherry

    Not that Senator Reid's comments were not insensitive, because they were, however, if Mr. Steele feels that Senator Reid should step down due to his remarks, then Mr. Steele and probably everyone in the House and Senate should also resign for past remarks and some present. Personally Mr. Steele, I am offended at your "honest Injun" comment and expect you to do as you demand Senator Reid to do, as I am part Native American and find your comment just as racially charged as you do Senator Reid's. So why is your apology for such a remark ok to clear you and his not?

    January 10, 2010 06:49 pm at 6:49 pm |
  20. Exasperated

    And Michael Steele has never said anything stupid?

    January 10, 2010 06:50 pm at 6:50 pm |
  21. Hypocrisy Watch

    The only person that should resign is Steele. Native American groups have called for his resignation following his recent use of a racist term to describe Native Americans.

    Steele should cease the hypocrisy.

    January 10, 2010 06:51 pm at 6:51 pm |
  22. Paul

    Mr. Steele, MANY members of your own party have said far worse. Your call for Reid to step down is inconsistent with your approach to racial comments made by Republicans.

    January 10, 2010 06:53 pm at 6:53 pm |
  23. S.B.

    Why the big fuss now about something said over a year ago? Just because a couple of reporters decided to include it in a book doesn't make it newsworthy. I really get disgusted with today's media. They try to sensationalize so many little things, and big important events often go unnoticed. It just seems to me that with all the really important issues facing our country, they could find more important things to talk about. Unfortunately I think the other media organizations keep trying to outfox Fox which thrives on creating scandal where there is none. I'm not overly fond of Harry Reid, but I think he's being victimized in this case. And just because Michael Steele says something doesn't make it newsworthy. He's put his foot in his mouth a good many times.

    January 10, 2010 06:53 pm at 6:53 pm |
  24. Bruce in VA

    Democrats are never harmed by the things they say because it is just assumed that they are doofuses. Republicans pay for their indiscretions, big time. As an example, see George Allen and macaca.

    January 10, 2010 06:57 pm at 6:57 pm |
  25. Michelle

    As a conservative African American, I believe that Michael Steele is more out of touch with the African American community. I would pick Senator Reid to represent my interests over Michael Steele. Even today I hear somewhat offensive statements from my white friends. I don't mind as much because I know where their hearts are and that they are good friends, so I forgive. With the GOP, I know where most of their hearts are, so yes, I would be more offended by what they say over a democrat. Judge people more by their actions over their words.

    January 10, 2010 06:57 pm at 6:57 pm |
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