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. Annie, Atlanta

    What are Republicans trying to claim with their latest "outrage?" That they have dibs on racism? Or do they feel they haven't gotten enough attention of late with their revisionist history on claims that we weren't attacked under Bush's watch? It's sad that in our two party system, we only have one party trying to move forward, while the other is just screaming like little girls, running to the closest camera & mic.

    January 10, 2010 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  2. vs

    mr. idiot Steel i think you should step down first

    January 10, 2010 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  3. Steven

    You Liberals need to visit the doctor, you're all delusional.

    January 10, 2010 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  4. Stevo

    As a dem, I agree – Reid should go. But not because he is some sort of racist – (come on GOP, remember how much you loved Strom Thurman) – but because Reid, and many other representatives are just so old they are out of touch. Who the heck says "negro"?

    If you can't update your vocabulary then you haven't updated your thinking. Let's get rid of these old farts and get some young, vibrant minds in there to take us into the 21st century.

    January 10, 2010 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  5. Louis

    Much ado about nothing!!!

    First this happened months ago, so it is not relevant now.

    Secondly, Reid has apologized, Obama has accepted that apology, so the issue should be a non issue at this point. As an African American, I don't care for Mr. Reid's comment but trust me, I have heard much worse, especially from the Republicans that Mr. Steele represents.

    Lastly, we have so many problems/issues to address which are more important to blacks, whites, hispanics, ete, then a slip of the lip which happened months ago. Why can't we focus on those issues instead of playing the political games of "Got ya". The American people would be better served and deserve so much better than this!!!

    January 10, 2010 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  6. CHIPS

    Leave it up to the GOP they will have everybody in the Obama administration to step down. A bunch of sore loser.

    January 10, 2010 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  7. Linda

    Racism and racist conversations have no place in America today?! I strongly disagree. The fact that anyone democrat or republican would make such comments show that race is still an issue that should be talked about. Michael Steele you are in denial big time. But what does one expect from a Uncle Tom.

    January 10, 2010 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  8. VON BISMARK -Vienna

    Don't blame Mr. Steele. He is deflecting a bullet coming after him.

    January 10, 2010 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  9. Stacey, Connecticut

    Wonder what the Democratic reaction would have been if a Republican said it. They would have been apoplectic.

    This is a joke. Why should the GOP care? They don't. As an african-american I accept Mr. Reid's apology. Reid was only stating what we already know. The GOP are a bunch of bigoted clowns!

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

    And as a member of the GOP I call on Michael Steele to step down!

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

    Funny when a Republican makes any statement the left does not like and can be in any way be construed as about race- or even when making no statement as with Lott- the Democrats rave about kicking the person out yet if the Republicans do the same thing they Democrats have a hissy fit – what ever reason you want to pick by the standards the left held Lott to Reid should go but hey we all know the Democrats make up rules as they go to favor themselves whether it is about someone saying something or the switch and change garbage they pulled in Mass and will probably try in Hawaii – yes both parties lie and yes both do things that should not be allowed but seems the Democrats are more apt to pull it and get away with it since the media trips over itself to downplay while over playing anything the right does- from the middle they both look bad but a case of in this instance the left is more wrong but not about to let Reid go till he fails to get the UNHEALTHY CARE bill forced thorough

    January 10, 2010 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  12. WMiller

    This is just partisan politics as usual. When Trent Lott made his unfortunate comments the libs wanted his head on a platter. Now the right wants Reid's head. What's pathetic is for the dems to suggest what Reid said was any less offensive than what Lott said. Lott was forced out and Reid should be too.

    January 10, 2010 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  13. Lisa

    As an African American women i'm here to say that Senator Reid was telling to truth.

    January 10, 2010 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  14. Sandra, Atlanta

    Let's for once be honest, GOP. You could care less about racially sensitive remarks. You are just lucky you don't get caught. Stop being hypocrites. I'm a middle-aged Caucasian by the way just so some of these idiots who write here assume I'm black.

    January 10, 2010 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  15. Ken in NC

    Maybe we should look at who is calling for Senator Reid to step down. It is the Republican Party. Republicans whose staffers are at present openly referring to their own leader, Mr. Steele, as "A FOOL". They are doing everything they can to cause discord within this country simply because they are no longer in control.

    Republicans fail to realize that acting as obstructionist is getting them nothing. If they made an effort to work with the party in power it could result in some good for the nation if they care any at all about this nation.

    January 10, 2010 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  16. ProudLib

    Shaddup about people's sensitivities OR insensitivities and get back to doing what you were elected to do, Cornyn.

    January 10, 2010 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |

    THIS coming from a man whose own party doesn't want him because he's black. They ONLY 'voted' him into the position when it was looking like WE were going to vote in a black president.

    Steele needs to see the light. The GOP is the party of OLD WHITE MEN. And don't you forget it.

    January 10, 2010 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  18. Max Fury

    The Republicans should apologize for screwing up this country.

    January 10, 2010 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  19. Karen

    He deserves the same treatment as Trent Lott. Step aside Senator Reid. This was VERY personal and very rude.

    January 10, 2010 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  20. Ron

    Don't you blind liberal elitists understand? Reid was not disparaging Obama, he was disparaging those Blacks who he feels are incapable of reaching the level of sophistication he feels that is a standard for being a representative of the people.

    Are you guys so in step with your party, that you don't realize a bigoted, racist political remark? Had the same statement been said by those you despise, you would have been up in arms.

    That the reason moderate republicans, democrats and independents are flocking to the support of the Tea Party.

    It's the reason the Democrats are going through political genocide.

    Jeeze! Take a pill and wake up!!

    January 10, 2010 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  21. D.D.

    Someone tell M Steele his time is coming to an end. DL Hughley gets the interview of the century with you and he gets fired. I don't get that one. The Ballon Family was more observed.
    Steele is smart to write a book to make some money during the RNC run.
    As far as Reid who is still decades behind ;does Steele think he is not in racial conversations.I heard Reid LOUDLY when he said he did not work for President Obama. He sounded as if he was speaking to the tea party, skin heads, and the white robe folks.What took so long for others?
    If Steele plans to remain in his postion he need to read Things White People Do so he can be acculamated. Steele is in limbo-caught between two worlds. He is lost cause if he thinks he can tell people to fire him or shut up. As the song says,"Any Day Now".

    January 10, 2010 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  22. Yougottaloveit

    I voted for President Obama and am glad I did. I do not see anything racist in the remark made by Senator Reid, although I personally do not care for the man. And, since when do Republicans stick up for President Obama??? Last I heard, according to Republicans, was that our President can't do anything right. Now that is a double standard.

    January 10, 2010 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  23. joe m

    can anyone imagine if this was a republican senator? there wouldn't simply be calls for their resignation, but they would already be hung in effigy. where are people like sharpton in this situation? let's face it, when it comes to race relations there really is a double standard. if one is a conservative, a member of the republican party, or some 'greedy corporate executive' the slightest mistake is met with condemnation and absolute anger. on the other hand, a liberal who makes the same mistake is given nothing more than a slap on the wrist. so let's be honest, reid's comment were completely inappropriate. reid's comments are an embarasment and it should be met with more than the response it has as of yet.

    January 10, 2010 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  24. Sam

    Actions speak a lot louder than words.

    Mr. Steele seeks to indirectly compare Reid to Trent Lott. Unfortunately, Mr. Lott has Klan links all over the place, with an atrocious civil rights records to go along with it. I have never heard Mr. Steele ask for the rseignation of any Republican who has said anything racist, whether publicly or in private.

    Conversely, Mr. Reid's record is clear that the comment bear little resemblance to his stellar records on civil rights.

    January 10, 2010 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  25. James

    Wasn't the entire RNC calling for Steele to step down 2 days ago? This outburst couldn't possibly be related could it?

    January 10, 2010 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
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