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. Red by Choice

    Double Double Standard. If a Republican had said this Al Sharpton and Jessie Jackson would have been camped out on his/her doorstep and every democrat in Washington would have been demanding him/her to resign. If you are black and think the Democrats want to help you, you are a sucker. All they want is your vote. Reid is a racist. You can spin his remarks any way you want but that doesn't change that he is a racist.

    January 11, 2010 03:04 pm at 3:04 pm |
  2. mms55

    he said what everyone was thinking but didn't say aloud.his choice of words could have been better,but it just reflects words used by his generation.negro was a word used often when he was growing up.

    January 11, 2010 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  3. Debby

    This old man is a real tool just shut up already. LOL

    January 11, 2010 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  4. wm west

    when i was young, people of color were negros or colored people, if u called a person black that was an insult and could lead to trouble. now afro/amer or black is the norm. lets give harry a break hes old. the word negro is only bad in the minds of certain people with an agender.

    January 11, 2010 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  5. Chipster

    What Reid said was true. Truth seems to confuse Republicans and sometimes even scares them. It's encouraging that at least some of them still recognize it.

    When they compare the remark to Trent Lott's fond wish that a segregationist (Thurman) had been elected, I truly wonder if they understand the language.

    January 11, 2010 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  6. Sea.gem

    Listen to the libs circle the wagons...if this were a republican you guys on the left would be screaming for his resignation....remember when Hilary referred to "Gandhi working at the local 7-11"?...of course not....you let her slide...keep exposing yourselves to the American people as the exploiting, igoramuses you are of the base that unwittingly supports you...and keep wondering why America is turning its back on your disastrous policies!

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

    Oh, what a shock that the slimy libs/dems are defending Reid, who will be gone as of fall 2010. The hypocrisy of these left-wingers knows no bounds. But I do forget at times, that when one political party has no ethical or moral standards to follow, it doesn't matter what they say or do. We all know that the conservatives do have rules of ethical & moral standards we live by. The other side does not.

    January 11, 2010 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  8. LeRoy

    Uh oh dems! It has already started, the backlash from america that is coming will be like none the U.S. has ever seen. Never in american history has the government forced a bill with only democrats voting for it into law. What has Obama done? race relations are worse now than before he was elected, unemployment is at 10%, the $787 billion dollar stimulus has produced 3,200 hundred temporary jobs, foreclosures are at an all time high, public school test scores are at an all time low, Obama cut the Voucher Program for low income students to go to better schools while his daughters go to the best all white school, businesses are fleeing the U.S. at an epidemic rate because of the policies and taxes Obama is putting on them and those jobs are not coming back, Troops are being killed in two countries now after Obama promised to end the Iraq war, and on top of all of that Obama wants to take half a billion dollars away from senior citizens medicare and give it to able bodied middle aged childless minorities. The list could go on forever, the bottom line is we voted (or ACORN fixed the election) for someone who has little to no experience in any of these matters, the dems are done in 2010 and Obama is done in 2012. What a mistake we have made, God help us.

    January 11, 2010 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  9. George

    Obama and Reid are doing fine. At least they are trying to make America a better place. That is more than I can say for the party of NO and Tea Bags!!! They are trying to make America worse, support greed, and big business corruption, They pout and whine like little kids, then wonder why no one has any respect for them.

    January 11, 2010 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  10. aproudmemberoftheunpatrioticmob

    This goes even futher to prove that he has poor judgement and is all the more reason for him to resign now (being a hypocritical democrat, he won't) or take it on the chin in November. It would be real interesting for CNN to go back and see what kind of comments he made during the Trent Lott persecution by the liberals in 2002. I would be you would find even more hypocrisy there.

    January 11, 2010 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  11. Mike1952

    Although I see no problem with using the word negro, I only think it fair that if Lott was forced to resign so should Reid. There is no difference in the two as far as I'm concerned.

    Reid is a liberal hack and shill who seems like he can't seem to string together a coherent thought without stammering around like a school kid.

    The democrat party is in the business of keeping blacks enslaved to their rhetoric. What have they done for them other than talk a big line. They're as racist as anyone, maybe more. They wail about their victimization and all the while enrich themselves off of it with no results for the blacks. Pitiful and shameful.

    January 11, 2010 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  12. Dar

    OH MY GOD, Shut up already, you kept your job for now, quit wining like a little weasel you are.

    January 11, 2010 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  13. Monica Holmes, PhD

    Could you possibly focus on something important like the bankers and the fact that reglation is going nowhere? Why can Moyers have a serious discussion about this when all your anchors have been talking about Harry Reid all day long? There is no comparison between what Lottsaid and what Reid said–Lott was championing a segregationist; Reid was stating a sad truth about America. What Reid said is a reflection on America , not a reflection on him or on Obama. How much longer are you going to keep talking about this? Of course the Republicans want Reid to resign–that would help derail health care reform. You don't have to aid them–I kniow this is a newsy topic–like Tiger Woods but enough already.

    January 11, 2010 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  14. Beverly in NC

    Senator Harry Reid is an excellent leader and a very good and decent man. His statement was taken completely out of context but that is typical Republican tactics.

    Republicans are in deep trouble with the electorate for this entire year of negative criticism, lies, hate-spewing and fear-mongering. Nothing they have said has turned out to be true. They wanted America to fail for their own political game playing.

    Just watch – if you thought Republicans are in the gutter in 2008, they will be even nastier this year and wiil make absurd allegations and conspiracy theories to try to once again destabilize and divide our country. They are not leaders. They have not offered a single solution or new idea all year. All they know how to do is continue the same failed Bush policies. Hell. McCain still thinks the economy is not a problem!

    Just remember who has worked FOR the American People this year and who has spent the entire year working AGAINST every program to help the American people recover. Republicans are anti-American racists. They are about to dump their one and only black member because they cannot control him and stand behind the horribly racist tea parties and the racist Republicans from backwater South Carolina...and then have the nerve to accuse a wonderful and successful Democrat of racism????? What absurdity!

    Notice the Republicans had nothing to say about SC Senator Lindsey Graham blaming SC's healthcare problems on their BLACK citizens. It is their BLACK residents who are causing all the state's high healthcare costs!!!! How much more racist can you get and now Republicans are looking to replace Steele with a corrupt, well-known racist Republican from SC to be the Party leader????

    Republicans have no solutions, no values, no leaders, and no chance in hell of ousting Harry Reid or gaining any seats come November. Americans don't elect traitors to out country to office!

    January 11, 2010 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  15. Dave

    Trent Lott was run out of office as Senate majority leader because he gave an "attaboy" speech at a birthday party for Strom Thurmond that some mistook as an endoresment of segragation policy that Strom supported 40+ years ago.

    What reid said is 10 times worse. If Lott had to go, Ried has to go.

    January 11, 2010 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  16. Crazy Cat Lady

    It was phrased poorly, yes, but what Reid said was an accurate assessment, unfortunately. The really offensive folks in this whole brouhaha are the Republicans screaming for his removal when they were perfectly happy to stoke the racist fears of the electorate during 2008. "Pallin' around with terrorists" and all that.

    January 11, 2010 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  17. smokey

    Harry Reid I think you have done a fantastic job in supporting Pres Obama, and I have every confidence you will continue to do so...And Michale Steele, you really have got a hell of alot of nerve..Pretending you are so concerned about Reid's commen about Pres Obama..Aren' t you the one who is constantly attacking Pres Obama with alot of mis truths and yes lies..Oh and lets not forget how you try to sound " black" when you think it is going to be advantageous...You Steele are the one who needs to apologize for your ignorance and mis representation of the facts, and most of all for being one of the biggest phonies I have ever seen..You sohould be ashamed of yourself ..And if Pres Obama was able to forgive Reid and close the book on the issue, why do you think you still need to harp on it? Oh, I forgort, you Republicans try to politicize everything,and just look for any excuse to call any Democrat to re-sign..You Mr Stelle need to look at your party, and lets cry re-sign to alot your people for the deeds thay have done !

    January 11, 2010 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  18. sifto77

    keep talking , Reid...keep talking–but, take that cotton ball out of your mouth–be sure and take your meds!

    January 11, 2010 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  19. Jane/Seattle

    Pride always goeth before the Fall!

    January 11, 2010 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  20. Great American

    The only place racism still exists with no shame, is in the democratic party! And the black caucus still sucks up to them. SHAME ON THEM!

    January 11, 2010 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  21. Obama ... worst President ever!

    If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then, it's a duck. It is what it is and no one can change that! This is only the beginning too!!

    January 11, 2010 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  22. Buck Wheat

    Do you really think he wants to help the African-American community?
    Its all about votes......wake up people!

    January 11, 2010 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  23. MJ

    Bye, Bye Harry

    January 11, 2010 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  24. DeLiRon

    Rudy Giuliani goes on national TV a couple days ago and declares, unchallenged:

    "We had no domestic attacks under Bush," Giuliani said. "We've had one under Obama."

    Senator Reid makes a silly statement about president Obama over a year ago, and all the buzz on the news today is about that instead of the outrageous lies that Giuliani and others have been perpetrating.

    That is why I don't watch the news as much as I used to. anymore.

    January 11, 2010 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  25. vika

    it is about time we don't walk on eggshells regarding race. we are all racists at one level or another. we all believe that those different from us are not as good, regardless of who we are and where we stand politically, so why is it so hard to have an open conversation about it

    January 11, 2010 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
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