January 11th, 2010
03:49 PM ET
8 years ago

Reid proud of early support for Obama

APEX, Nevada (CNN) - Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Monday he is "very proud" of having told President Barack Obama early on that he believed he was a viable candidate for president and could win election.

Responding to the controversy surrounding a newly published remark he made privately about Obama's race in 2008, Reid sought to emphasize his long-standing support for the nation's first African-American president.

"I can still remember the meeting that took place in my office with Sen. Barack Obama, telling him that I think he can be elected president," Reid said.

Obama "was kind of surprised that the Democratic leader was calling this new senator over to suggest that he could be elected president," he added.

He said numerous prominent African-American officials, including NAACP Chairman Julian Bond and Attorney General Eric Holder, have called him to offer support in the wake of the controversy that began on the weekend.

"I've apologized to everyone with the sound of my voice that I could have used a better choice of words," he told reporters after an event announcing a new energy project in his home state. "And I'll continue doing my work for the African-American community."

Reid said that "as as very young man" he became a leader of civil rights efforts, including the integration of the gaming community.

He added that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar called him to say he should "tell everybody that you have done more for diversity in the United States Senate than all the rest of the people put together."

Asked whether he should apologize to voters, Reid - who had issued a statement over the weekend apologizing "for offending any and all Americans" - did not answer directly and instead cited the support he has received from around the country and within his own state.

"I'm not going to dwell on this any more," Reid said. "It's in the book. I've made all the statements I'm going to make."

The book he referred to, "Game Change," went on sale Monday.

Looking at the 2008 presidential race, it recounts a moment in which Reid said privately that Obama could succeed as a black candidate partly because of his "light-skinned" appearance and his 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."

Reid apologized in a statement sent to CNN on the weekend. "I deeply regret using such a poor choice of words," he said.

He added, "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 called the president Saturday and apologized. After the call, Obama expressed support for Reid and said, "As far as I am concerned, the book is closed."

"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," the president said.

Reid also called a host of African-American political figures, including House Democrats Barbara Lee of California and Jim Clyburn of South Carolina; the Rev. Al Sharpton; CNN political contributor and Democratic strategist Donna Brazile; and the head of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, Wade

Republicans pounced on the controversy.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, head of the GOP's Senate campaign arm, called for Reid to give up his leadership posts following the "embarrassing and racially insensitive" remarks.

Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele, speaking Sunday to NBC's "Meet the Press," also called for Reid to step down. "Racism and racist conversations have no place today in America," said the first African-American GOP chairman.

Steele was also on the defensive, for a remark he made last week.

Speaking to Fox News, Steele said 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.

Numerous Democrats came to Reid's defense. The Congressional Black Caucus said Sunday that it had accepted his apology and dismissed calls for the Nevada Democrat to step down.

"Senator Reid's record provides a stark contrast to actions of Republicans to block legislation that would benefit poor and minority communities," Lee, chairwoman of the caucus, said in a written statement.

Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-District of Columbia, a former chairwoman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, issued a statement saying, "Like President Barack Obama, African-Americans are likely to accept Majority Leader Reid's apology for an obvious reason. He has earned it."

She added, "Harry Reid's opponents will not find a welcome mat in the black community if they seek to capitalize on the Reid remark. While Sen. Reid has been producing for African-Americans, many of his critics were opposing him on these same issues."

Democrats rejected a parallel drawn by some Republicans between Reid's remark and one by former Senator Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, in 2002. Lott lost his post as Senate majority leader after saying the nation would have been better off if Strom Thurmond had been elected president when he ran as a segregationist candidate in 1948.

"There is a big double standard here," Steele said on NBC. "When Democrats get caught saying racist things, you know, an apology is enough."

Gov. Tim Kaine of Virginia, chairman of the Democratic Party, shot back, telling NBC "there is no comparison" between the two sets of remarks.

Reid is embroiled in a tough re-election campaign to stay in the Senate at all. Only one-third of Nevada voters have a favorable opinion of him, while 52 percent have an unfavorable opinion of the four-term senator, according to a survey by Mason-Dixon Polling and Research for the Last Vegas Review-Journal released over the weekend.

The poll was conducted Tuesday through Thursday, before news of Reid's comments.

Updated: 3:49 p.m.

–CNN's Dana Bash, Mark Preston, Rebecca Sinderbrand, and Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report.

Filed under: Harry Reid • President Obama
soundoff (118 Responses)
  1. Colorado Mom

    As a democrat, I have a hard time understanding how and why Reid would even make such gross comments. And for those saying that it's ok, no big deal, what messgae does that send to young black kids "you can be successful as long as you don't have negro dialect (unless you want to)". He should resign.

    January 11, 2010 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  2. GI Joe

    This is another distraction.

    It's almost as bad as the obstructionism in DC.

    NOTHING can get done as long as this silliness continues.

    I guess Media and the Republicans really do want this country to fail.

    January 11, 2010 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  3. Jean

    Why is it acceptable to have a black entertainment network, the word negro in the College fund, colored in NAACP? If there was a white entertainment network would the black community be offended? Are all black people Africian Americans? What happens to the Island people who never were in Africa? It is time for the black community to come up with some title that all americans can use in comfort.
    Also, black people using the "N" word is still unacceptable to all Americans. Let us start teaching our children manners that are comfortable for all of Americans.

    January 11, 2010 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  4. caron

    How about the Repubs fire Steele first for his honest injun deragotory comment first since they are so high and mighty? I truly am sick of the whole Repub lot. Can't stand to even listen to the words that come out of their mouths.

    January 11, 2010 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  5. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    "I can still remember the meeting that took place in my office with Sen. Barack Obama, telling him that I think he can be elected president," Reid said.

    And now we know why you felt he could be elected President, wink wink! In other words Senator: let it go. The less said on this subject now, the better. Capisce?

    January 11, 2010 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  6. justcookin'

    Had anyone asked my opinion of Obama in 2008, I probably would have given the same as Reid. For awhile there, when there were four or five people in a room, and you mentioned what one had said and was asked who said it, would you say: the black; or, the colored, or the Negro? What if that person had on the same color (red) as another non-black, you could not say the one wearing red. We certainly have created our own problems, haven't we?

    January 11, 2010 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  7. obama the liar

    Bye-Bye Harry.

    January 11, 2010 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  8. Tom

    Obama must feel terrible after learning that two of his biggest supporters (Reid and Clinton) actually are racist towards him and all black people. The part that must sting the most is that Obama and the Congressional Black Caucus have to smile and take the insults and pretend that they don't hurt. Simply to try and pass a Health Care Bill that the vast majority of americans don't even want. Reid is finished in politics, 2010 is going to be a bloodbath for the dems at the voting booth. You already have prominent senior senators who would rather retire than stand behind Obama and get voted out. Obama is a failure as a president, his whole presidency is based on a health care bill that no one wants. It will be funny how fast this health care bill will be done away with once Obama is voted out in 2012.

    January 11, 2010 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  9. henriettap

    While the GOP has called for Sen. Reid to step down I believe that the only concern they have is not getting the health care bill passed.They have a conservative talk show host that has said worse and has not offered any apology.I'm sure there are plenty who have said worse but have not been put on tape or paper so they need to stop with the rhetoric of them caring so much about what he said and find their own agenda.AND STOP TRYING TO HALT HEALTH CARE REFORM.

    January 11, 2010 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  10. mjm

    "I can still remember the meeting that took place in my office with Sen. Barack Obama, telling him that I think he can be elected president," Reid said.

    Because of his light skin and lack of "Negro dialect....unless he chooses to have one"?

    Would Reid have given the thumbs up to someone who looked like Condi Rice or Steele?

    Democrats can get away with being the biggest racists on the planet as long as they vote a certain way. Good to know the NAACP is ok with this.

    January 11, 2010 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  11. RRILEY

    It wouldn't be such a big deal if the Media would keep from beating a dead horse. Who cares, So what, Big deal. Stop reporting a stupid stuff..

    January 11, 2010 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  12. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    Okay, everybody out there anti-up and tell the truth whether you are black(light-skinned or dark-skinned), white, yellow or brown, politician or whatever we have all said the same thing and some even worse. But for me, just give me a black man, light or dark skinned just as long as he loves and respects me and that doesn't make me a racist.

    January 11, 2010 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  13. Bugl3t

    Talking about race isn't always RACIST... I can see why the Republicans don't think they are racist... they CLEARLY don't get it.

    As for the comment about light skin and negro dialects, it could have easily been a comment about nice legs and a "You Betcha" fake minnesota accent....

    Maybe light skin made a difference. I can flat out tell you that it wasn't the "dialect" of Barack Obama that influenced me... it was the quality and content of his words... all spoken in grammatically correct English... for instance.. he understood how to pronounce nuclear, unlike the moron in the office for the previous 8 years.

    What made me vote for Obama was his intelligence, consideration, more progressive ideals and the fact that he was a constitutional lawyer. Now if the Republicans would just get out of the way, we might be able to get some change made.

    January 11, 2010 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  14. luvalo

    This constant chat about Reid's comments...NO ONE wants to speak truthfully.
    My question to the black community is........
    Why when blacks attain an upper middle class life, or even middle class life,financially, WHY do they MOVE to the suburbs?
    WHY do they NOT purchase a home IN the black community?
    Why ask the caucasian population why they don't live in black communities when the blacks themselves LEAVE?
    Face it, OK, you jump on the "white man" for any little thing YOU say is racist, yet, YOU yourselves LEAVE your communities in droves, seldom "giving back" yourselves. Please don't question white racism until you ADDRESS your own black prejudice.

    January 11, 2010 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  15. Hammerer

    The Democratic Party has used the African-American voters for years. They promise the moon if they will vote for the Dems, but what have they delivered? Nothing! The remarks by Reid and Clinton give a true look at their concern for the black community.
    Reverand Wright had it right when he said that the Dems used the African-American voters to win elections but all the voters got was the shaft.

    January 11, 2010 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  16. Matt

    I bet Reid's one of those goofballs who still has the Obama/Biden sticker on his car. Election's over. Voting for Obama doesn't make you cool. Move on.

    January 11, 2010 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  17. T'SAH from Virginia

    The difference between someone making a statement like Reid and someone other than Reid making that statement is – – –

    – – – The same thing with the N-word – some people can call me that – Black and/or WHITE and/or MEXICAN and/or JEWISH and/or Green, Pink, Purple, Green or Yellow and I can shrug it off and smile with YOU!! – – – – – BUT, it all boils down to HOW you said it – WHY you said it – WHERE you stand in my everyday life and YOUR BACKGROUND!!
    CASE & POINT!!!

    LimBAUGHERcheese cannot say it to me, nor Hannity, Beck, Palin, Bachman, GinGRINCH, CHENgang AND others that THINK like them!!! PERIOD!!!

    January 11, 2010 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  18. mh

    Reid is truly an idiot – and on his way out!!!

    January 11, 2010 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  19. strong

    Awww, that's so nice. It makes me so happy to hear that.

    (.... eyes rolling)

    January 11, 2010 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  20. eric in Denver

    Typical liberal hypocrisy. If Reid was a republican Sharpton, Jackson, and the rest of the clowns would be demanding that Reid step down. Is anybody surprised here?

    January 11, 2010 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  21. George Guadiane - Austerlitz, NY

    If he had not used the word "Negro," it would be difficult to fault him in any way. He spoke the truth in an unfortunately colloquial manner.
    We do not support him because he is a Democrat, We support him because he is right, because he stands for things that we agree with... Because he wants to help Working Americans get reasonable treatment from Big Business/Big Money.

    William J. Jefferson, DEMOCRAT Louisiana has RIGHTFULLY gone to jail for violating the law and the trust given his office (OH, and he's an African American)... We DON'T support those who don't deserve it...
    Reid deserves our support.

    January 11, 2010 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  22. sensible Cape Coral FL

    The Republicans are really getting desperate for an issue. How about trying to be nice for a change?

    January 11, 2010 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  23. REG in AZ

    No matter how much propaganda is put out to cloud over the truth, one can clearly see the facts by just asking a few questions. Who, with a total belligerent focus on benefiting only Special Interests and a select few while giving the average American only apathy, the costs and an abundance of subterfuge, has aggressively put everything ‘in the toilet’? Who stubbornly and obnoxiously has continually offered nothing positive or constructive and instead constantly only faults and tries to block / obstruct every effort to turn things around? Who, with an unrelenting and irresponsible total concentration on their own political interests, keeps trying to rationalize returning to more of the same, which realistically could only result in ‘pulling the chain’? With the substantial support of the powerful, influential and wealthy few who own and control them they now want to fallaciously manipulate public opinion to allow them to once again gain the power they so boldly abuse. To disregard all of that and just accept the deceptive rhetoric is to literally ask for more of the same. If we really want that to end and to see the return of a responsible, honest and conscientious Republican Party once more focused on the people instead of just Special Interests and a select few, we need to absolutely refuse to be manipulated and firmly reject what they have become! If in frustration over the Democrats’ imperfections we would then accept the corruption of the Republicans, we very likely would be asking to continue the disaster. It might be nice to have a third choice but we realistically don’t and we really need to look beyond the subterfuge to see the total picture, which should have become vividly clear in 2001 – 2008.

    January 11, 2010 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  24. Hey Big Spender

    A set up right from the begininning, Reid and the Democrats had their show horse. Step 2- smear the Clintons and diminish them as racists. Step 3- that worked well, now brandish everyone else a racist that does not support Obama. Step 4- Have Al Sharpton support Reid on FOX news next to Ann Coulter and for the first time in his life not condemn a statement as racist.

    What a joke the political landscape is. How do we let these turkeys run anything?

    January 11, 2010 03:03 pm at 3:03 pm |
  25. MatthewDetroit

    Reid You are a RACIST.

    But thats okay, it is always two different sets of rules in the world.
    That is why blacks can use the N word and not be offended but they
    are when anyone else uses it. Just IDIOTS for accepting it.

    The South Carolina flag bothers them but it doesnt bother them when
    Senator Reid states " well its okay that obama kid.... hes not really black... he is kind of light skinned and only talks Black when he wants to make a point.... like infront of HIS people or in a Baptist church.....
    WOW I love that Black People will accept this crap and swallow hard...

    January 11, 2010 03:03 pm at 3:03 pm |
1 2 3 4 5