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. Republicans are the American Taliban

    Where was the outrage when Glenn Beck called the President a racist? Where was the outrage when Beck and Limbaugh called Judge Sotomayor a racist?

    January 10, 2010 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  2. cph9680

    Let's not forget what happened to Trent Lott after his comments praising Strom Thurmond...Enough with the double standard, it's time for Harry Reid to go!

    January 10, 2010 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  3. wait a minute

    Steele should step down following an ineffective year.
    Reid should step down and give other people a chance to do a better job.
    When we see a true statesman, we will know it.

    January 10, 2010 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  4. Mickey

    Steele is on his way out, and feels threatened. This is why he is making the idiocial comments he's making. He is trying to protect his job.

    When Micheal Steele grows up and realizes that he was not placed in the chair position out of the goodness of his party's heart, but rather to mask the blatant fear, racism and bigotry for which the Republican/Conservative movement in this country stands for, then, and ONLY then, will he begin to speak out against the damage that movement has done, is doing, and will continue to do, to this country.

    January 10, 2010 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  5. Trent

    If the GOP had any sense they would ask Steele to step down.

    January 10, 2010 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  6. Ivan

    If this is so aborrant, then why are we now hearing about it two years after the incident?
    This is just another diversion from the mess the Republicans left this country in and Obama's and the Democrats trying to right the listing ship of state.

    January 10, 2010 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  7. Texxan

    Only if you step down for saying "honest injun", Mr. Steele.

    January 10, 2010 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  8. LEXIE

    Republicans NEVER step down when they speak out of line......especially those Republicans from South Carolina!!
    Really, no Republican has ever owned up to any of their off-color remarks!

    January 10, 2010 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  9. CRob

    Stepping down is a bit much. But he is correct about the double standard.

    January 10, 2010 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  10. John Boehner is like Cleopatra, only he bathes in Cheetos

    I cannot help but wonder what words a tea bagger would use under the same circumstances.

    January 10, 2010 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  11. trueposition

    I think the Republican treatment of the President and of Americans have been lots more cruel! Check it out: "Water-loo", "you lie!", "socialist", "communist", "death-panel lies", "don´t want President to succed", misleading americans, instigating hate that even a neo-con fan came to Presidents rally with open gun, wishing an a sick senator death so he may not vote in the health care, misinterpreting, twisting the president time without number. Give me a break! Shame on GOP!! Steel himself is almost being a victim in his own party, so what is he talking about?

    January 10, 2010 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  12. chicago4obama

    While Michael Steele is asking Harry Reid to step down, does he have the guts to ask Rush to apologize to all the Crips and Bloods in the NFL, along with Donavan McNabb.

    January 10, 2010 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  13. jane

    Steele is desperately trying to divert our attention away from his own blunders.

    January 10, 2010 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  14. valwayne

    When Sen Lott complemented an old man in his 80s at his birthday party the Democrats took his statements as racist and went crazy, hounding him out of his Majority leader position. Yet we have these blatantly racist remarks from Sen Reid. Yet they seem to think a apology is all that's necessary? Racism is endemic in the Democratic party, but when its internal its not a problem for them.

    January 10, 2010 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  15. Thomas

    steele jumping on this issue in order to make a political statement?

    I am shocked! Shocked I tell you!.

    January 10, 2010 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  16. WoW

    Democrats really do have a double standard. You liberals would be calling for Reid's head if he were a Republican.

    January 10, 2010 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
  17. nadine

    Tone it down, Michael Seele. The GOP don't want you as their RNC leader. Let the truth be told.

    January 10, 2010 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  18. Sue

    You are 100% right Mr. Steele--Harry should DEFINITELY step down.

    The Democrats forced Trent Lott to step down--due to his "racist" statements--it is time for you to do the same.

    However, it won't matter..........Based on national polls--Even before Harry's racist remarks were released---Harry was already losing in Nevada to any/all Republican candidates by 10 points or more.

    Harry's political career is over in 2010-–if not sooner!!!!

    January 10, 2010 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  19. Cynthia

    If anyone should step down from anything it's this clown. He is an embarrassment not only to black men but all men.

    January 10, 2010 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |

    These old geezers in congress have all got to go. Also, why do people routinely avoid mentioning that Barack Obama is also WHITE?!!!!

    January 10, 2010 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  21. Nancy G

    Senator Reid’s observation’s regarding the electability of Barrack Obama, while in artful, are not and were not racist. Indeed, Reid’s assessment that this youthful, intelligent, articulate man could win the presidency despite his color and his name was prescient.

    Whether you view the substance of Reid’s observations as opinions or facts, they merit discussion. During the primaries, many Black and /or female Americans, myself included, made similar observations about whether a black man or a woman could get elected in America. We reflected on the issue of Obama’s ability to attract the votes of other ethnic groups, and of Clinton’s ability to get male votes.

    If Americans are honest with themselves, they will acknowledge that Jessie Jackson could not have won the presidency. Al Sharpton could not have done so. Cesar Chavez could not have done so. Not in America in 2008.

    Instead of turning a spotlight on Senator Reid, perhaps we should turn it on the birthers who won’t accept Obama as an American. Perhaps, we should turn it on ourselves.

    January 10, 2010 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  22. John in Brooklyn

    Yeah...Harry Reid should step down the very day after the Republicans unanimously vote to support Affirmative Action, full funding for No Child Left Behind for school districts at risk, and a renewal of the Voting Rights Act.

    Please be sure...the racism has less to do with what you say and has everything to do with what you DO! To paraphrase Martin Luther King...African Americans should judge people by the nature of their character...and they have judged the Republicans "guilty".

    January 10, 2010 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  23. Nancy

    Mike Steel stop trying to win your party back. So what, Obama is not saying he should be remove so who gives you the right to say anything except you are a scumbag and scapegoat for the GOP. You need to clean up around your own house before you meddy in others business.

    January 10, 2010 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  24. Annie

    I think what Reid said was incredibily ill thought – especially in today's microscopic media environment.

    However, for the king of the Foot-in-Mouth approach to political discourse to call for Reid's recognition is rich indeed.

    January 10, 2010 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  25. John Boehner is like Cleopatra, only he bathes in Cheetos

    When you think of Glenn Beck's racist comments or the crap that Rush Limbaugh has gotten away with without giving an apology, this is mild in comparison.

    January 10, 2010 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
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