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. Margo

    Republican Sttele needs to stand down.

    January 10, 2010 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  2. unemployed by Obama

    Reid needs to step down for his remarks, Obama needs to step down for his whitew police officer remarks and Steele you need to step down because you are taking the republican party in the WRONG direction.

    January 10, 2010 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  3. LacrosseMom

    The GOP never fail to amaze me, with their holier-than-thou statements and behavior.

    Its the "do as I say, not as I do" attitude that is so hypocritical.

    GOP will do, say and spew anything to win.

    Careful, America, not to be fooled again!

    January 10, 2010 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  4. S Callahan NYS

    This is just the reason so many democracts have swtiched to the Repbulicans....always trying to justify a hurt, a lie, a decption. What Mr. Reid said was wrong, and in any other enviroment he would have had his butt kicked for saying it. I'm sorry....but if this was your son they were talking about ...would you feel it was okay. Yeah, I didn't think so.

    January 10, 2010 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  5. StevieB

    Steel just can't accept his tokenhood and keeps trying to ingratiating himself with the Republicans. It's getting sad to see him constantly try to make friends and constantly being publicly rejected. I don't agree with anything he says but I still feel sorry for him.

    January 10, 2010 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  6. diane

    Michael Steele should worry about weeding out the members of the GOP who share beliefs similar to Reid before attacking Democrats. I am sure a lot of Republicans thought the same about him when he was elected Party chairman.

    When was the last time the GOP cared about what happened to African – Americans, Abe Lincolnm, the Immancipation Proclamation? Now they are coming to our defense?! His statements are laughable.

    Having said all that ,Reid was wrong, disrespectful and I would have no problem with him relinquishing his Majority Leader position. If he said this stuff publicly, what are his private thoughts like?

    January 10, 2010 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  7. Aunt Bea and Opie

    Poor uncle Mike,every family has someone that doesnt smell the coffee,or know when they are being used.hahaha

    January 10, 2010 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |

    Steele should wake up and realize that the pure ones of the republican party are after him. he will be the one stepping down shortly when limbaugh and palin get the tea party against him he is history, by by steele.

    January 10, 2010 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  9. sifto77

    Does the lib defense of these demeaning remarks mean that Rush will be allowed to buy into the football team? After all, he simply told the truth when he said the black quarterback was overrated>>>>>>

    January 10, 2010 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  10. Independent

    Steele you should step down and stop being a token.....This is coming from a African American

    January 10, 2010 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  11. Independent

    You should step down and stop being a token.....This is coming from a African American

    January 10, 2010 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  12. crim

    'Tis true, there is a comparison. they're both wrong in their comments. However, one's a thought and one's an old saying. Wrong though it may be, it's a phrase, nothing you would ponder. Reids comments were a thought. there's a lot of difference in the two.

    January 10, 2010 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  13. Jac

    And here we embark on a journey of mental gymnastics, as the same democrats screaming for Trent Lott's head make up all sorts of excuses for Harry Reid.

    It's almost as comically absurd as NOW defending Bill Clinton when caught lying under oath about sexually harassing an intern...during a sexual harassment trial!

    I'm going to get some popcorn and watch, as it's always so entertaining to see.

    January 10, 2010 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  14. LizF

    I believe the writers said themselves that the comment was made in private and I believe that's where it should have stayed. Sen. Reid has apologized and the Pres. has accepted and the rest of America should let it be. What kind of media is this that feels they need to report everytime somebody goes off script. How I long for the days of Chet Huntley and David Brinkley and Walter Kronkite. No wonder there are so many people running around carrying signs and stirring up so much hatred and division. I'm sure Dr. King and yes, the saintly Mr. Regan are both disgusted with this attitude in America today. We have not seen the worse yet, once before God said the people in His world made him sick, they stinketh in His nostrils, we are on the way back. It's not the terrorists we need to fear!!!!!

    January 10, 2010 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  15. Ed, Santa Fe, NM

    Isn't this moron the one who's always trying to invoke "street jive" into his moronic outbursts so he'll sound "hip"?


    January 10, 2010 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  16. Don in Grand Rapids, Mi

    Wow, Dummycrats suppoorting Dingy Harry! But didn't we all expect this. If this had been a Real America Republican saying such racist remarks, there would have been a Dummycrat lynch mob storming his/her office within an hour. Well Dingy Harry will get his reward in November when he goes to apply for unemployment benfits!

    January 10, 2010 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  17. Patrick Lewis

    And as the head of the RNC he's supposed to do what? come out and say that it was a poor choice of words? Besides, it was a true statement, his opinion and something he said IN PRIVATE. Since when did we get the idea that private conversations are, in fact, public?

    January 10, 2010 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  18. Steve851

    Steele badly needs to think before he opens his mouth. His comments are stupid and certainly do not reflect those who he purports to represent. And this is not the first time. He usually ends up eating his words. Michael, please pause and think first

    January 10, 2010 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  19. vernis robertson

    Micheal Steels needs to shut -up . That is what his own party is calling him behind his back . I don't understand why does CNN even cover ramrks like this made by Steele .

    January 10, 2010 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  20. jlb

    I'm white I voted for Obama and I'm proud that I did, but this race thing sometimes get carried a bit to far. We have Black History Month, but no White History Month that I know of as Black only colleges, but I don't believe there are White only colleges and the list goes on. I don't feel that I'm I racist and have plenty of black friends. He apoligized and the President accepted his apology. End of Story!!!

    I'm against the war and have been for a long time because we went after the wrong guy in the wrong country, but if I dare say anything against the war I not patriotic, It makes no sense. We have allot more important matters to concern ourselves with and people need to grow up and get down to the business at hand.

    January 10, 2010 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  21. You-should-resign

    Shut up you idiot!
    I'm black. He's forgiven.
    You are a disgrace going after Sasha and Malia

    January 10, 2010 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  22. Right Leaning Independent

    That is ridiculous. I do not think he should have to resign because of his comments. I just want Dems to treat him in the same manner they would treat a Repub if he said the same thing... Besides, I think it benefits Repubs if he stays in the race. He is so unpopular, I believe that he will lose to any Repub challenger which would be good for this country at this time!! Dems are out of touch with reality and we need some more Repubs to counter this liberal agenda being shoved down the throats of Americans!!

    January 10, 2010 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  23. B Lewis in Austin

    When Steele steps down for all the things he has said, then Reid should consider it. Steele is having enough problem hanging on to his job. This is just another opportunistic smoke screen and fodder for the Sunday Morning talk shows. Get a life and if you want to help, pass the health care bill-if not, get out of the way.

    January 10, 2010 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  24. ib

    If a republican had said this all the democrats and liberals would be calling for him to step down or even leave congress instead of covering up for him. We have a double standard; if you are demcrat everything will smooth over; if you are a republican or conservative–leave and you are a racist.

    January 10, 2010 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  25. Future expat

    Here's a few reasons why things would be different had a Republican said those comments:

    -The Southern Strategy
    -The Willie Horton Ad
    -The McCain/Palin Campaign
    -The Tea Party

    The GOP has dug its own hole after a long and storied history of blatant racism.

    January 10, 2010 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
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