January 10th, 2010
06:44 PM ET
5 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. naldrvr

    Funny how two days after Michael Steele is called out on his remark about "Honest Injuns" on Hannity Monday, Reid's two year old statement makes headlines and now Steele is leading the charge for him to step down. Another Republican diversion of please don't look behind the curtain the Wizard is a fraud.

    January 10, 2010 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  2. Ken

    Things aren't usually this simple.....Harry Reid the RACIST should resign, but he won't...because he's a DEMOCRAT! There won't be any pressure from Jesse or Sharpton for Reid to resign, because he's a DEMOCRAT! The media won't call for Reid's resignation, because he's a DEMOCRAT! The pure hypocrisy is on display for all to see.

    January 10, 2010 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  3. Mr Nelson in Florida

    I wish Mr Steele complained out loud about Dick Armey and those racist Teabaggers regarding the way Mr Obama was being depicted in those rallies especially as Hitler.

    January 10, 2010 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  4. Don

    So . . . it's okay for Obama to go off on a white police officer without first checking the facts, accusing him of discrimination against a priviledged member of the black community.
    Speaking of racism and discrimination, why is there a Black Caucus and a Hispanic Caucus in congress?

    January 10, 2010 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  5. S R B

    If Reid is asked to step down do to his remarks so says the GOP. Let me ask why the GOP then can defend their congressman when he shouted "Liar". This isn't a case of racism as the liar case wasn't. It's a case of poor judgement. Mr. Steele, you may want to get your ducks ( GOP memebers) in a row before you make judgement. You do have clear leadership in your party and your now using this to defect critisism from yourself. DON'T use this to get out of the spotlight !!!!

    January 10, 2010 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  6. So non-arabs can't be terrorists? Explain Richard Reed, Jose Padilla!

    Ahhh, how refreshing. The GOP is focused like a laser, except the focus is on Democrats and not the United States.

    So many ideas from this party, where to begin.....

    January 10, 2010 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  7. Gary

    Though I could personally care less, it's quite amazing how quickly many of the posters will forgive him. Yet, had it been a republican who made the exact same comment, there would be hell to pay, regardless of how much they apologized. Nice double standard people.

    January 10, 2010 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  8. Martha Kane

    Step down? Really? Ridiculous......

    January 10, 2010 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  9. Mike

    As a black male, I was not offended. I hope my white friends were not offended by Obamas 'typical white person' comment. And Jim in Phoenix, the magic negro statement was originally an op-ed in the LA Times, hardly a supporter of the Republican party.

    January 10, 2010 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  10. Marie Laveaux

    What I find even more offensive is Mr. Steele's awkward and inappropriate attempt to "talk Black" a while back. Remember how he did so when trying to convince black folks they were welcome in the GOP's Big Tent? Such hypocracy, but par for the course from this clown, who demands that Harry Reid resign, but praises someone for calling the President a liar.

    January 10, 2010 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  11. gary

    would sharton and bond be so forgiving if a republican said this yeah rightt they would be asking for them to quit when are black people going to realize that democrats look down on you but they know you will always vote for them

    January 10, 2010 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  12. Harold Trainer, USAF RET

    I helped to to support Democrats in 2006 and 2008. Hoping for change and a new direction for our government. There has not been. Obama has been a disappointment and Reid has not been able to fix the too big to fail problems. He failed miserably with the excuse that it was too hard to do and we were getting the best bill possible and that we needed to send more troops to Afghanistan. And now we know what Reid said about Obama. I will no longer support the Democrats in any way. There would have to be a dramatic change in Obama and Democrats. When you get to a certain point in Wash DC there is no real difference in Democrats and Republicans. Just different sound bites. Both parties are in business to help their special interests and not the people or the country.

    January 10, 2010 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  13. Tee

    Do Republicans do ANYTHING besides attack Democrats for every possible thing? Attack, attack, attack and it seems to be working. I've understood some of their criticism in the past, but now they just make me sick.

    January 10, 2010 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  14. Keeth in California

    Opportunistic hypocrisy.

    January 10, 2010 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  15. Wale Falodun

    Micheal Steele I agree, by the way welcome to the good life. Others before you in the GOP have profited off their position look at the bank account statements as proof.

    January 10, 2010 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  16. Brenda

    What Reid said is totally and completely racist.. He has the mind set from the 60's like most of the Dems still do today, I know, I know quite a few of them. If a Republican would have said that the dems would
    want him to resign right away. I guess there is a double standard here so if Trent Lott resigned so should Harry Reid.

    January 10, 2010 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  17. Mark D

    You liberals are absolute crazy... Mrjd, great point... Why is it you morons think its racist that I don't want the government taking huge amounts money out of my paycheck I worked hard for? You idiots are so self righteous about your own boneheaded ideas. Its like hey poor black Americans, we libs want to give you all a million dollars but the evil racist GOP doesn't want to. Sure the conservatives could base their politics on fantasy worlds that aren't possible but like I've said before, the libs are the children of the wold and conservatives the realistic adults.

    January 10, 2010 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  18. Willy Brown

    He should be he won't. The Obama friendly media and democrats in congress condone that type of behavior from its own.

    January 10, 2010 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  19. canubelieveit

    Reid should not step down he is doing a fine job for the Democratic Party, as long as they keep pushing their socialist agenda for America, he is assuring their defeat in the 2010 election.

    January 10, 2010 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  20. Jolie

    Give me one example of why we should take your suggestion MR. Steel? Your party has vowed to disagree with the Obama administration from the beginning... so why should we expect anything different coming from you and your GOPers? You act like everything you do is so perfect... you are quick to pass and vote for war resolutions but when it comes to peace making and healthcare for all you act slower than snails. Tell me one bill that your party has supported so far and I will give you credit for it.... you fool yourselves that your gonna win the midterm elections??!!.... people are scared of your political tactics, you are too scary to be trusted... especially you Mr. Steel. Forget winning... the more you open your mouth the more votes for Democrats, if I were you i'd zip my mouth for GOP's sake.

    January 10, 2010 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  21. Dave

    I think almost all Republicans and Democrats should resign. They have catered to big money from big business to the detriment of this nation since 1980 and have bankrupted this country. If people were smart, they would all vote 3rd and 4th party in the next election. Replacing one corrupt party with another is not change. It is the textbook definition of insanity.

    January 10, 2010 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  22. Julio

    Silly liberals.
    Your thought processes boggle the mind. I've tried to read as many of these comments I could stomach, and come to a single conclusion – liberal are the aberrants of our society. One comment stated they didn't understand how Reid's comment was racist. Really??
    Others think it's okay, because, after all, he apologized. Well, with that rationale, we are really making progress, aren't we?
    And yet others blindly call Republicans racist, even after what Reid said.
    Reality check!

    January 10, 2010 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  23. r

    Reid's comments are not racist, they are honest comments on the state of our society today. No politician is going to get elected to national office by playing up their ethnicity or by looking heavily ethnic.

    January 10, 2010 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  24. Craig Parrish

    OK Democrats........it is "Payback time" !!! You demanded and got
    your wish to force Trent Lott to step aside over his comment about
    Senator Strom Thurmond. Reid should step down as honorably as
    did Trent Lott. How hypocritical can you get??????

    January 10, 2010 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
  25. Debby

    I like Steele but Reid only said what was true and it wasn't racist. Reid should step down because he is doing a crappy job just like his partner in crime Pelosme.

    January 10, 2010 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
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