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. Darlene

    The GOP eats it's own.

    What is wrong with speaking about an individual's race and their accent? Personal appeal is a huge part of political strategy.

    Obama's appeal is his intellect. Watching the previous president clear brush was getting boring.

    January 10, 2010 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  2. Retire Reid

    Reid looks and sounds like Mr. Peepers. He ought to be shelving books in a library – like the Memoirs of Obama's one term Presidency.

    January 10, 2010 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  3. rob

    I also cant beleiv how many racist comments are being made on this blog....and you people making them dont even realize that they are racist....

    January 10, 2010 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  4. Gumboz1953

    It was a dumb thing to say out loud, but it was a good assessment at the time. Americans would be more likely to support Obama because he looked and sounded more like them than "other blacks do." That is true. That is why U.S. voters, who are inherently racist, were able to support him.

    Reid's comment is true, and says more about us as a whole than about him. And we can see it playing out now - how the teabaggers and others just can't stand that a black man has become president, and continue to even question his legitimacy to be president - something that has never happened after any election. Even after the Supreme Court handed Bush the 2000 presidential election, people grumbled, somet,imes loudly but accepted that he was president.

    With this president, you have whackjobs showing up with guns at Presidential town hall meetings, and other nonsense. That has never happened before.

    January 10, 2010 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  5. DJays

    The GOP removed Trent Lott, it is not the Democrat that removed him, it is ironic that Mr. Steel who is kissing Rush Limbaugh's ass is now calling for Reid's resignation, it is not a hidden fact that Limbaugh is a racist, the problem with the Republicans is that they have image problem, so what will appear like an ordinary mistake with a Democrat will look like a policy speech with the Republicans, when a party is surrounded by Tea Party members, people depicting Obama as an African witchdoctor but are too eager to praise Arnold Schwartzniger who was not even born here and could barely speak English, then something is wrong, so Mr. Chairman Steel, just put your house in order.

    January 10, 2010 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  6. Joe

    If you are a democrupt, you can offend African-Americans in any way you want without any consequence. But if you are a Republican, then you have to be very very careful because it carries consequences. There are clearly double standards!

    January 10, 2010 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  7. Gary

    Steele should host Saturday Night Live.

    January 10, 2010 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  8. Easy

    After Obamas lenience, black voters will start to leave him as well.

    January 10, 2010 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  9. NotFooledTX

    Nonsense. It wasn't the most graceful of statements, but Reid spoke to the President and apologized, the President accepted. End of story.

    I've hear some try to compare this incident to Trent Lotts comments about Strom Thurmond and segregation. That's absolutely ludicrous! It doesn't compare in sentiment or in the level of absurdity.

    Steele is just trying to take the spotlight off his absolute ineptitude.

    January 10, 2010 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  10. char

    I'm so tired of people apologizing for how they really feel. 2008 comments reveled 2010,Reid said it and believes it. And many more people feel the same way.

    January 10, 2010 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  11. Vynson

    Reid need not apologize. He said nothing racist. He was simply recognizing the fact that many Americans are still racist and that it is easier for them to put aside their bias for a black candidate if he is lighter skinned and orates with clarity and genius instead of amping up the speech stereotypes that have been mocked by every black comedian from Richard Pryor to Dave Chapelle.

    Michael Steele knows this, but he is being an opportunistic jackal willing to twist and gouge a good man's words for the sake of the sadly amoral GOP.

    But smart people, including our very intelligent president, see things as they are.

    January 10, 2010 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  12. Rob

    The only reason this is not blowing up is that Obama the black president who is democratic played it off because Reid is doing all Obamas hard work.
    If the president was white, and Reid was making these remarks the blacks around the country would be outraged.
    Thats ok, Reid is on his way out anyways. So are a lot of democrats. Mid-terms will be a big blow to the democrats and they are completely aware of it.
    Hyprocrites.

    January 10, 2010 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  13. PaulG

    -A statement was made directly about the President.

    -An apology was made directly to the President.

    -The President accepted the apology.

    -What's the next item on your agenda that's worth something more constructive?

    Note: Steele being quoted as saying, "Racism and racist conversations have no place today in America", is an idealistic notion based on fantasy. We all know that it's not good, but when it does happen and the affected party accepts the apology, we must continue forward to something else.

    Another Note: "Honest Injun"?? Come on now Steele – this was used in the 19th Century by White Folk and was considered offensive back then. I think it's better that you just switch topics away from Reid because you are not qualified to discuss racism without offending some other party.

    January 10, 2010 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  14. scott whitehill

    .
    One by one, the old-school, left-wing liberals are dieing off, one by one, so you soon won't have to worry about all the Democrats and their covert racism. Allowing illegal aliens into this country simply to sweet-talk their votes by the Democrats is the worst form of racism there is..
    .

    January 10, 2010 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  15. Vic

    Everyone needs to get a life. It is so sad when all we do is hang on every word that someone has said in present or in the past.

    If everyone would spend the amount of money they spend on anti-Obama ads or anti-Obama rallies; do you realize how we could help the homeless (especially children), education, or any program that would benefit children and people in need.

    We all need to get a grip and realize how we look to all the nations in the world!!!

    January 10, 2010 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  16. Anonymous

    Apologize for what? stating the truth?

    January 10, 2010 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  17. Party Purity will never bring Political Power!

    I can see where folks may not like the word "Negro" being used, however, some of us older folks, do remember a time when that was the only acceptable term, and was much preferred over a derivative word of "Negro" that was used by whites, at least here in the South.

    That said, someone in public office for most of his life, probably should be more aware of more acceptable current terms.

    January 10, 2010 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  18. James Brooklyn N.Y.

    I think Steele should step down. What Reid said may have politically correct but is not untrue. I am white and married to a black woman who saw nothing wrong with what he said. The truth is not always rosy but had Obama run for president with a less than perfect dialect he would not have won.

    January 10, 2010 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  19. Richard

    Mr D. You Republicans should win the American vote and seats in Congress with good sound policy (had the opportunity for 8 years but did not do it). Comparing praising a bigot like Thurmond with using politically incorrect language is out of bounds. To M Steele, I would tell him that if it were for people like Trent or Thurmond, he would not be in the position to lead the GOP today. Reid's unfortunate use of language still underscores a message of strong support for a step forward in our American society, that is, that a Black president was at the time of his remarks the best possible option and one that the country was ready to get behind. Let's not contaminate two complete different underground messages.

    January 10, 2010 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  20. ed

    Democrat hypocrisy has never been more obvious than with the comments here by Democrats. Yes, Harry Reed apologized. So did Trent Lott in 2002 after the remark he made at Strom Thurmond's birthday party. All is forgiven with Harry Reed. But not with Trent Lott. Democrats are "evil mongers" to use a term recently used by good old Harry.

    January 10, 2010 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  21. scott whitehill

    .. And I can't remember the last time a Republican politician ran on the basis of race, as the Democrats did in '09. They made it clear last year that if you didn't vote for Obama, you were a racist. And if someone wants to throw out the phrase "Uncle Tom", maybe you should start in your own party, i.e. Joe Biden!!....

    January 10, 2010 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  22. oxbobend

    Mr. Steele, I cannot and will not let this go un-noticed. You insulted my "native american" friends with your comment of "honest injun".
    Do you not see the double standard you are using in trying to call for Reid's resignation.? Do you not see droves of GOP members leaving your ranks to join the tea baggers, because they cannot stand to see a black president or black chairman of their party. Do you not see the racism among your ranks, or are you just ignoring the obvious?

    January 10, 2010 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  23. Robert

    I think Steele and Palin should run off together and live happily on moose.

    January 10, 2010 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  24. gary

    Give me a break. Since when has the GOP become racially sensitive? The GOP is grasping at straws.

    January 10, 2010 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  25. S Mitchell

    As a person formally called Negro...no problem with what the Senator said. It was not offensive...what is offensive is Mr Steele...what a joke.
    Btw, what Senator Reid said is probably very tamed compared to what Steele has been called by the Repubs.

    January 10, 2010 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
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