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. Mr. American

    Steele should step down

    January 10, 2010 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  2. Richie

    Steele needs to look around at the Party of Old White Men and see if that's really where he belongs.

    January 10, 2010 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  3. Kat

    You have only to look at the make-up of the Republican Party to know and understand their thinking on race. Steele is a useful tool for the R-party at the present time as was J.C. Watts. Where is Watts now? I think he out-lived his usefulness and thus we have Steel and Cheney's one-time Black assistant to add a little color to the party.
    Reid apologized let it go.

    January 10, 2010 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  4. Tim from NC

    Why do you liberals forget to mention the whole Trent Lott scandal a few years back? He said some insensitive remarks and you lib's flipped out yet somehow its okay for Harry Reid to say whatever he feels like. You lib's are the most hypocritical creatures that have ever lived, how can you look in the mirror???? Wonder what your response would have been if Rush had made the same statement........

    January 10, 2010 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  5. Scott

    If the liberal media/democrat political double-standard is allowed to persist, Reid is in the clear. It's only the GOP who can possibly be racist, according to the left media/democrats, and must be held to account.

    When former GOP senate leader Trent Lott made a gratuitous birthday wish to the late Strom Thurmond, which was made out to be racist by the democrats through generalization and extrapolation, he lost his position. However, when Senator Byrd, on freaking national TV no less, made a remark about white n#ggers, NOTHING WAS DONE! Byrd wasn't rebuked, asked to resign or made to apologize. Now, when Harry Reid is exposed for his small-minded racism...Not a peep from the democrats.

    Hypocrisy is thy name and thee party is democrat.

    January 10, 2010 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  6. pikerover

    Steele .....watt a joke he is

    January 10, 2010 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  7. Good-Bye Global Warming

    Good bye Harry Reid. Don't let the door hit ya on the way out!

    January 10, 2010 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  8. ender

    Why is it the GOP hold the Democrats to such a higher standard then they hold themselves?

    When a dem says something they dont like they should "step down" but when a republican does it, they should be forgiven.

    When a Dem commits adultery he should step down. But a Republican should be forgiven.

    When a Republican president and congress spend us to the brink of depression they are "conservative".

    When a Democrat spends money in an attempt to prime the economy after the borrow and spend republicans alomost ruin us its "STOP SPENDING NOW!!!!!"

    When a republican passes federal laws in attempt to trump state law its acceptable. But when a Democrat does it the GOP is all of the sudden a champion of the states rights to govern themselves.

    You republicans are, quite simply, hipocracy walking.

    Pure and simple.

    January 10, 2010 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  9. Randy, San Francisco

    Steele is a fool and hypocrite. Where was his indignation when his extreme conservative buddies, Limbaugh, O'Reilly, and Beck, made racial remarks during the presidential election?

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

    This comment made by Reid does not just relate to just Obama, It was made from his heart and reflects what he beleives. This man is a racist, and an apollogy does not make him less of a racist. This has nothin got do with teabaggers or bush.....only rascism in the administration. Step down loser

    January 10, 2010 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  11. Michael

    This is the equivalent of a white man walking into a Church and slapping a black woman, then that black woman's husband yelling aloud how much he dislikes the man because of the color of his coat.

    Reid is a certified politician, and he'll always say dumb things...as we all will from time to time, but to throw our hands up and say that he's a total buffoon because of his admission of a poor choice is just stupid. Do we let this man admit his mistake and move forward with his work, or do we let the Republican's token black guy claim racism has no place in our country? It seems that the man screaming racism might want to look at all of the white guys standing behind him for his real apology.

    January 10, 2010 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  12. Anthony Ravenell

    Micheal Steele really need to know when to honestly shut up! He is not even respected by the GOP and is only there as a token. That's right a token to try to dupe Africa-Americans and Hispanics that the Republican party is for them by them accepting him.

    January 10, 2010 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  13. Frank Gerber

    Right now, Republicans would be better served by a steel chair than by Chairman Steele.

    January 10, 2010 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  14. American Patriot

    Where's that Republican traitor who called our President a liar in the middle of his speech to Congress? Oh yeah, he's being slapped on the back and praised by the Republican party. Republicanism, when you care enough about our country to undermine its leadership and fill yourself with hate...

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

    Reid should remember this when he goes shooting his mouth off. Obama is as good an "American" as he is, and so are Kwon Won Choo or Venkat Subramanyam. All Reid has up is sleeve is that his great grandfather invented the gun and Reid and his ilk put it to good use to murder, maim and almost drive to extinction, the Native Indians who OWN THIS COUNTRY. So all the whites who think being white is American can go and fly a kite for all we non whites care.

    January 10, 2010 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  16. Avi Shlomo

    Uncle tom. shut up and put a sock in it!!

    January 10, 2010 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  17. Mark S.

    Mr. Steele, please never stop talking. Your buffoonery and hypocrisy help the Democrats ever time you open your mouth in pubic.

    January 10, 2010 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  18. Ken

    When Democrats make comments like the one Reid is quoted as saying, it is an "unfortunate mistake". A simple apology covers a multitude of sins. But let anyone else make similar statements and it is racism. There is a double standard and it is called Washington politics. I can't remember the last time the terms "personal responsibility" and integrity were used in response to situations such as the Reid comments. And people wonder why the country is in moral decay. Just look at it's leaders.

    January 10, 2010 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  19. DonP

    I cannot believe the bias that is here. If this was a Republican making that statement about Obama, they would be labeled a racist. CNN is absolutely biased to the Democrats just as Fox is to the Republicans. Both of you guys are not even news worthy. Such a double standard, even from the Americans that are here.

    January 10, 2010 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  20. Steve

    MS is dead meat but he doesn't realize it. The GOP only hired him because he was black. Thinking that the DEMs voted for Obama because he was black. Wow the politics of race is alive and well. Somehow I never see a black man when Obama is on TV. Do you think it has anything about his morals, values, empathy, brains, and determination to help the people before himself.? None of these qualities are black! But very few seem to surface when I hear any one associated with the GOP speak. You folks are still fighting the Civil War but don't realize it.

    January 10, 2010 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  21. Aaron P

    Wow! As a Democrat I have been reminded in the past year to what ends Republicans will go to advance their agenda. Healthcare has always been a democrats issue. They all of a sudden want to put their 2 cents in. The elderly and medicare, a democrats platform. Now all of a sudden they chime in about seniors losing medicare. And now this. Michael Steele and the Republicans are trying to claim the lead on race issues. WHAT A JOKE! They tried to torpedo Bill Clinton in the eyes of Black America. (He really was the first Black President) As a Black American, I believe he is the first to truelly touch and advance issues in minority communities. Michael Steele is a joke. The irony is that their are 2 prominent Black Americans who will never have the respect of the Black community. Never! One is Michael Steele, the other, Clarence "Uncle" Thomas. Michael Steele is even a joke to his own party. It took several votes for enough people to bow out of the race for Repub Chair just so he could win. Mr. Steele, get a life.

    January 10, 2010 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  22. indiana voter

    Democrats are simply racist. They voted for a guy because of the color of his skin, not based on experience. They obviously are on the defensive about that and don't want to admit it, so they accuse everyone else of being racist for disagreeing with this President. The truth is that Democrats are Racist, as has been shown to us this week about Senator Reid. There is a double standard in politics. Republicans do in fact force people to step down when comments are made like that, such as Trent Lott. Democrats, however, don't see anything wrong and prefer that their racist leaders stay in control. What a bunch of racist idiots that are in the Democrat Party. Someone please tell me how it is not a double standard and see how ridiculous you sound in trying to defend the comments and his position as Senate Majority Leader.

    January 10, 2010 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  23. tmart

    What a joke Steele is. When his tenure is up as Chair, he will never be seen or heard from again. His leftover books will go on the heavily discounted tables in bookstores. Any person with a brain can see that Reed meant no disrespect for Obama, and was making a political analysis that frankly is probably true. His support for Obama is unequivocal. Comparing to Trent Lott's statements is so bizarre. And then of course the hypocrite Steele thinks his own apology for the honest injun statement is sufficient, but not so for Reed! I bet you a million bucks that Reed's apology is more sincere than Steele's! Steele is such a hot windbag! It's smart that Republicans themselves are beginning to see him as a liability to their Party. Anyway, it's this sort of making mountains out of molehills that hurts race relations.

    January 10, 2010 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  24. flyinturd

    Why should Reid quit? Balks only want another balk in the WH next time around...don't matter bout the brain in da head...the color is the only thing balks are interested in having.

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

    First of all, it is ridiculous that Michael Steele even said this, because Reid apologized without being prompted and the President accepted his apology. Really it should be case closed.

    Secondly, make no mistake about it, if the situation were reversed and a Republican said this about another Republican, Steele would be supporting the person who made the comment. Both sides (Republican and Democrat) support their side when they make comments like this, but when the other side does it, they are the first one to cry foul.

    To both Republicans and Democrats who do this, I say, you can't cry foul and then expect everyone to leap to your defense when the situation is reversed.

    January 10, 2010 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
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