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. EcoAZ

    The whole Republican vs. Democrat bile is getting seriously old. I'm neither, but I think Mr. Steele, like so many other people, needs to develop a thicker skin.

    It would be immensely refreshing to finally drop this partisan vitriol and simply demand candidates that are focused only on the well being of the American people.

    On the other side, political correctness should go into the trash bin once and for all, replaced with simple tolerance and common courtesy.

    January 10, 2010 02:26 pm at 2:26 pm |
  2. Doyle Wiley, MI

    I'm an African-American and Reid comments were correct, not racist, not insulting; just true. If Steele wants to find racism, he only needs to look into the mirror.

    January 10, 2010 02:27 pm at 2:27 pm |
  3. chris

    I am a black man and I will say that we all know that racism is still alive and always will be. We all have also said things that we wish we could take back. I know we all see things differently and reacted to certain things differently but I say that it should be up to the president to decide on how he feels because he is the one who is being talked about. You will find people from both races that will react differently about what was said but to me I think it is no different than the senator screaming you lie or Limbaugh saying what he thinks. We have to move on and remember not all people believe what these people say. We as a nation should all think twice before we speak once and whom ever you are talking about, put yourself in that person's position and decide how you would feel and what your reaction would be. I am not sure how I would take it but I would hope I would be able to forgive just as our president did.

    January 10, 2010 02:27 pm at 2:27 pm |
  4. Your comment is awaiting moderation AGAIN

    And the republicans should send Steele on a long journey to outer space, but neither are going to happen so I would love for Steele to keep it up, the more he puts his foot in his mouth they more stupider people think he is.

    January 10, 2010 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
  5. Anja

    The remarks were not racist. They were legitimate observations about factors that would affect the outcome of a political run for office. Granted, he should have chosen his words better, but he was not trying to be offensive. Remember, this is a man who supports Obama. That said, I have to agree there is a lot of hypocrisy going on. If a Republican had said anything close to this, he would have been tarred and feathered by every Democrat out there...and by the media.

    January 10, 2010 02:32 pm at 2:32 pm |
  6. Mike

    It's so nice that Mr Reid and Obama have kissed and made up.......maybe now the NAACP will give Mr Reid a lifetime membership.......how wonderful for all concerned.

    January 10, 2010 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  7. lizzy

    Did not Newt Gingrich just say the color of Michael Steele's skin may frighten some in the republican party? Should he now be asked to step away from commenting on anything republican?

    January 10, 2010 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  8. Liz

    As tempted as I am to compare Michael Steele to Clayton Bigsby (purely in jest, not hostility), I will refrain.

    Sen. Reid apologized to President Obama. President Obama accepted his apology. Let's move on and focus on solving the problems at hand, rather than pointing fingers at one another.

    January 10, 2010 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  9. rick

    steele and his people might like to shut up while they still have time.

    January 10, 2010 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  10. Ed, Santa Fe, NM

    Can't someone shut this babbling idiot's mouth?

    January 10, 2010 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  11. Cammie, Atlanta, GA

    Steele should step down for saying "Honest Injun" on Hannity's show last week. Kettle meet pot.

    January 10, 2010 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  12. buckwheat

    Truerer words were never spoken by a more dangerous politician than Reid. During this campaign Obama made speeches that were only picked up by a few stations and he could speak in the hood with the best of them.Even during the campaign Liberal and Conservative stations kept asking early in the campaign if he was Black enough to be elected. Reid did not insult anyone but he made a mistake of telling the truth us peons already knew by not depending on big name stations to pick up our news.

    January 10, 2010 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  13. jerseylou

    Hey steele, what do you think these repugs think about you behind closed doors?

    January 10, 2010 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  14. Blutarski

    Wy was it appropriate for Democrats to demand that Tom Delay step down, but now Democrats are defending Harry Reid for committing the same blunder?

    January 10, 2010 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  15. pat c.

    steele offended me when he used the word 'my bad' or when he thought the GOP needed 'bling' in there meetings to bring in more 'negros' to the group. mr. steele is the kind of man that comes to mind when i hear the word 'negro'.
    why don't you resign mr. steele and rid your own party of a 'token'. you certainly don't fit in with all those old white cronies.

    January 10, 2010 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  16. Ruti

    I have never in my 78 years heard of so many stupid and brainless politicians. We need to replace every one of them.

    January 10, 2010 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  17. buckwheat

    John Wayne said never apologize it is a sign of weakness.I believe him before I would belive a politician.

    January 10, 2010 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  18. Ken in NC

    Here we are only 10 days into the New Year and already Michael Steele has won the SARAH PALIN STUPID AWARD for 2010.

    January 10, 2010 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  19. Ab

    As a Black man, I am offended by Michael Steele's comment. He and his party are out of touch with American people; let alone black people. So they should the last to comment on this issue.

    January 10, 2010 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  20. Jaxson

    Steele is such an idiot...I'm glad the GOP has him.

    January 10, 2010 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  21. Luke Brown

    American society is racist. It is true that in many places in this country, there is discrimination against blacks, and among blacks based on the relative lightness of skin color. There is also discrimination based on the way a black person speaks. That's just the hard truth.

    Reid was saying that his lighter skin would make him more acceptable to a broader range of voters, and that his manner of speaking is more credible to people than if he sounded more like the old stereotypes.

    The same would be true of a white person who spoke like a hillbilly or an Italian person who sounded like Don Corleone

    Get real. Reid was just saying something that reflected an unpleasant truth about our society... sadly.

    January 10, 2010 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  22. buckwheat

    Democrats do admit their mistakes and keep right on making the same ones. Seems half the government we have have bad memories when it comes to tax time but it does not seem to interfere with their careers.

    January 10, 2010 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  23. Jerry in NC

    As a black man, Sen. Reid's alleged comments do not offend me at all. It's a known fact, that whites have always spoken of such things, behind closed doors, so it doesn't surprise me at all. The fact, that he has worked hard in the senate, to promote and push through bills, that will benefit people of ALL races, is more important to me. Steele, on the otherhand, by his mere existance, is offensive to me! Look up "uncle tom" in a reference book, anywhere and you will find a picture of HIM. He is just a wanna-be who has been given a fake throne to sit upon, by the same people who would love to hang him from a tree.

    January 10, 2010 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |

    Mr. Steele, do the country a favor and resign!

    January 10, 2010 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  25. Kasie

    Someone needs to shut this guy up...or better yet, let him go, he's an asset for the Democratic Party!!

    January 10, 2010 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
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