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. RodeoJoe

    Oh, give me a break! Check out Reid's Caucasion accent.

    January 10, 2010 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  2. Liz

    Exactly how is this newsworthy CNN? The presidential election is over. Oh... that's right, there's a senate election coming up. Quit doing the republicans' dirty work for them, and get back to reporting the news!

    January 10, 2010 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  3. Gerry NH

    Reid should not step down for this remark. He should step down as a criminal for bribery, extortion and lying to the amreican people.

    January 10, 2010 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  4. lisa

    Why is this still an issue if the person the comment was made about has issued a public acceptance of the apology! Can't the government move on and stop adding to the real drama that needs to be addressed? Healthcare, the jobless, the starving Americans, etc.

    January 10, 2010 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  5. WangFu

    My initial reaction was that of disappointment.

    But thinking about it now, and put in the right context, Senator Reid is right. For the majority, and let's face it, white America, to vote Obama into office, they needed a "less-Black-seeming" candidate. It's not Reid's fault for calling it what it is. It's our bigotry as individuals that is to blame.

    January 10, 2010 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  6. jay in denver

    If Chairman Steele is so deeply concerned about "anachronistic language that harkens back to the 1950s and 60s," perhaps he should spend more time criticizing the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the United Negro College Fund, both still going anachronistically strong into the 21st century. Or maybe he should be more concerned over his boss Rush's comment to an African-American caller: “Take that bone out of your nose and call me back.” But then that would require growing a spine or some real morals. Never mind.

    January 10, 2010 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  7. Fan of Common Sense

    If a republican would have said this, the media would be camped out on his or her front lawn and there would be a steady drum-beat for his or her resignation. Because this is a democrat, the media will give it a little bit of attention for a week or so and then it will never be brought up again. WHAT A DOUBLE STANDARD!!

    January 10, 2010 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  8. John in WV

    Where was Steele a little over a year ago when Dick Cheney called the people of West Virginia inbred? Where was Steele when Cheney went on to say that he could say this now because he no longer needed WV voters to help get him elected in which they did in both elections. Now Steele wants Reid to step down but he didn't even ask Cheney to opologize for his remarks. Talk about double standards. Steele is a disgrace to his party and his race.

    January 10, 2010 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  9. Rob

    It's hypocritical of democrats to not demand that Reid step down as Majority Leader. It may be momentarily advantageous for them not to do so due to pending health care legislation, but it's hypocritical nonetheless. Were the parties reversed, democrats would be in lockstep demanding Reid step down and it would dominant the news like Tiger Wood's scandal round the clock until Reid was out.

    January 10, 2010 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  10. Truth-Bomb Thrower

    And how is this different than what Trent Lott said? It's three times worse. Why isn't the media pummeling Reid like it did Lott?

    January 10, 2010 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  11. JP

    REALLY? Michael Steele, you are NOT A LEADER! Reid said something that was on the minds of most INTELLIGENT American's, and you're just using this as a politicization attack. Rush and other right wing talking heads have said far worse things about people, racially, so please, GET YOUR HEAD OUT OF YOUR ASS! This is complete absurdity.

    January 10, 2010 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  12. Cindy

    Pretty Pathetic if you ask me. Michael Steele needs to get a grip and quit playing politics as usual. I seem to remember Barack the Magic Negro. I remember our President basically referred to as a terrorist by the likes of Palin. You Republicans sure are hypocrites.

    January 10, 2010 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  13. hongli

    Michael Steele days are numbered with the GOP.

    January 10, 2010 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  14. Rick

    I am a Black man and thought the same as Reid. The reality is that a Black man speaking without "dialect" is much more palatable to white people in the American public than one who speaks with dialect.

    Steele's comments show, once again, just how much of a political hack he is and how totally devoid of thought his words are. His handlers should find another token to express their "teabagger" positions.

    January 10, 2010 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  15. RTB

    This is coming from the pseudo "jive talking" yoyo who insults all of us.
    It is Steele who is out of touch with mainstream folks when he thinks he has to pretend to be "one from the hood" in order to be accepted.

    Get rid of Steele, perhaps the Republican party will regain a little respect.

    January 10, 2010 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  16. independent

    What is unfortunate is his accurate description of the American political situation at that time, and probably still holds true.

    January 10, 2010 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  17. nicholas

    Yep. What a racist! Reid was a chief architect in bringing Mr Obama to power, pushing President Obama's agenda, bringing real hope and future prosperity to America not to mention historic health care reform,
    and lastly respect to America, and the GOP wants Reid to resign...GET REAL!!!!

    January 10, 2010 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  18. John

    The good part is that I get to back my statement with a vote, since Harry Reid is my Senator.

    He was making a statement of fact. Harry Reid is a person who calls things like he sees them. He doesn't mince words which is what I find refreshing about him. What he said doesn't make for a good sound bite, but pretty people who follow a "sounds good, say it; looks good, do it" policy don't go far in Nevada politics. We want realistic policy makers.

    I'm in a mixed marriage, myself, and I can tell you that there is still a lot of racism in this country. I never really realized it until I saw my wife go through it. In fact, I now firmly believe that a lot of the more strident opposition to Obama is based on racism, not policy.

    I'm not a raging liberal, either. I've always voted solidly Republican. I just think the Republican Party has become a regional party of the super wealthy and the lunatic far right. It's about small government and fiscal conservatism, not opposing a sitting President just because of his skin color.

    January 10, 2010 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  19. Mlhall

    Michael Steele is not black (looks only) so he does not speak for me. What Reid said was not racist it was the true. President Obama is light skinned and he talk very well what is wrong with that, if some people can get their head out of their behind they could think. There are enough problems in this world with out us making more out of nothing. We are so busy pit our self against each other, do we remember Unite We Stand Divide We Fall. Michael Steele acts like a Jack Ass he jump on any wagon that is against President Obama he have no room to talk about Reid. I am black and I am not insulted, I was born in the 40 and in Ala, I knew Georgia Wallace, I have had more said to me than that.

    January 10, 2010 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  20. tonyinsatx

    I'm black and I believe that Reid is correct. The reason that Obama had the best chance IS 1)he is a light-skinned black and 2) he comes across as articulate and intelligent. That is the kind of black person that many whites fear as young black kids just might have a real role model to look up to. For those who say that many blacks voted for Obama because he black is a form of racism, to a certain extent that is true, however for you to assume that was the only reason is racist on your part. Also, what about the non-blacks who voted against him because he's black? Aren't they racist? If I were to ever have a chance to ask Mr. Steele a question I'd ask him why does he think that 1) he was made the GOP "leader" shortly after Obama got the Democratic nomination and 2) he was NEVER considered for the GOP nomination? Could it have been due to his skin color? I would ask ANY politician whether their main concern was the agenda of their party or the plight of ALL Americans? When I voted for Obama I felt that he was the candidate that was most concerned with plight of most Americans and that he would be the one that would make the best effort to get us out the mess that we are still in. The fact that he was black was a bonus.

    January 10, 2010 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  21. KLJ

    During the election, there were a lot of racially insensitive comments made by representatives in both parties. Therefore, if Mr. Steele is being principled, he should also be calling out Rep. Westmoreland, Limbaugh, Rev. Jackson to name a few. This is nothing more than a political ploy by the GOP.

    January 10, 2010 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  22. jamesbrummel

    "There is a saying that the Jews who are wealthy got that way not by watching dollars, but instead by taking care of the pennies and the dollars taking care of themselves"– Republican Party chairmen Edwin O. Merwin Jr. and James S. Ulmer Jr.

    Gee Mr Steele, no comment on that one?

    January 10, 2010 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  23. Reggie

    I agree, but Reid will be voted out office in 10 months, anyway. He is extremely unpopular. All 3 of the republican candidates beat him in the polls.

    January 10, 2010 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  24. billy123

    Mr. Steel you will say anything that you know is not true. I am so sick of these right wing nuts of the GOP either in office are running for office. If you had not run out the moderates in your own party out maybe somebody would listen to you.

    Mr. Steel I respect your right to speak but please make sure you know what you are talking about.

    January 10, 2010 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  25. Ex-NC-Pub

    Does the RNC have other reactions other than "NO" and "they ought to step down?"

    January 10, 2010 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
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