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. charlie in Maine

    Enough apoligizing already. The folks really offended have already forgiven you and the GOP can go "Hike the Appalachian Trail "with themselves. Shame on them for comapring your comments to Trent Lott's praise of that klansman on his birthday. Now, get healthcare passed or you really will have something to be sorry for.

    January 11, 2010 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  2. unemployed by Obama

    all dems are the same, if someone other than a dem makes a remark, they want censure, ousting and ridicule, but when one of their own do it, its circle the wagons. Thats why I can never support a democrate because they are two faced. I will support anyone that runs against a democrate.

    January 11, 2010 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  3. cd from colo

    Every time you turn around, the Repubs are whining about something.... They can't fight constructively, so they have to resort to this kind of crying.... They have nothing substantial to say, so they have to hunt and search for something they think is significant, but in reality, it isn't.

    January 11, 2010 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  4. Dale

    People make dumb statements and this wasn't one of his smartest. Repbubs cry about a double standard, but what they fail to see is that his actions prove that he stands with minorities. Something the Republican agenda shows that it does not. The repubs again are only using this to divert attention from the issues. When you have nothing to add you can only attempt to create a diversion.

    January 11, 2010 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  5. Emmanuel Goldstein

    Hypocrisy, thy name is Democrat. And Republican.

    The Amish had it right: Get thee separate. It's time for two America's, Red and Blue. Better yet, it's time for the central and mountain states to secede, and leave the granola states to the Old USA (along with all that debt).

    January 11, 2010 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  6. Chuck, Tennessee

    Both sides are laughable. If a Repub had made these comments, the Dems would be attacking them as racist and the Repubs would be claiming the comments were not meant to be racist and they don't understand why anyone is offended. Since a Dem said it, the Dems say the comments were not racist and all is okay. Unbelievable. Vote them all out!

    January 11, 2010 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  7. norb

    Harry Reid is a good man. When a black commedian said on a morning talk show after Obama was elected. " If he looked like Wesely Snipes he never would have gotten elected." Funny? yes. True? yes. However, Strom Thurmond fathers a black child and kept it secret I guess is okay? Evidenly Trent Lott thinks it was. This so called Republican party is WAY out of touch.

    January 11, 2010 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  8. j

    The Republicans are going to hoot and holler over every little issue, no matter how insignificant. They wouldn't be the Grand Obstructionist Party and the Party of No if they didn't.

    I have a dream that one day politicians will focus on real issues instead of petty squabbles. I know, keep dreaming.

    January 11, 2010 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  9. RobK

    Frankly, this just makes the politicians, especially those on the left, look even more two-faced. Trent Lott's comment at Sen. Thurmond's birthday party was 10 times more innocuous than what Reid said. Yet, because it was uttered by a Democrat, it's not that bad. The same holds true for the Republicans for jumping all over Reid, even though what he said is basically true. It seems like you have to check the person's party affiliation before determining whether something is offensive.

    January 11, 2010 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  10. jane seattle = jane hanoi

    just another stupid comment from a stupid man. also another case of double standards. politics once again has liberals selling out their souls to pass unpopular garbage in DC.

    January 11, 2010 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  11. Baby Boomer

    Senator Reid's statements WERE inappropriate but if there are any white people out there who think black people (who are successful in business) don't change how they speak in order to be accepted in the workplace, you are kidding yourselves.
    We wear several hats and change them as needed. It's called tailoring your message for the audiance with whom you are speaking. See how easy that was...

    January 11, 2010 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  12. Sandy from Portland

    It's nice that he apologized, but a good question at this point would be to ask just how many of us were thinking and saying exactly what he said? Good Democrats all, many of my friends and I wondered aloud that the fact that Obama was light-skinned and didn't sound "black" would be factors in his favor to getting elected. Not racist, just being realistic. Unfortunately, we do not live in a color blind world, and sometimes what we think and say aloud are not politically correct (how I hate that phrase). If the Republicans wish to make such an issue of this, perhaps they should consider resigning after appearing at demonstrations where their followers are waving overtly racist signs.

    January 11, 2010 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  13. Justen in Florida

    Yeah, fortunately for Obama, he has light skin, and doesn't sound like a "Negro", or else Ried would never have supported him.

    January 11, 2010 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  14. seebofubar

    That's just another reason to get rid of him. Anyone who supports that sad excuse for a president we have needs their head examined.

    January 11, 2010 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  15. Dumb-o-CRAPS are runing America

    I really don't care what he is saying now. What I find utterly ludicrious is that if a Repbulican had made that comment, the entire Democratic party would be screaming for the Republican's head. Why the double-standard? Why? Please tell me,

    January 11, 2010 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  16. Liberal wingnut

    Only a liberal can get away with the media not pouncing on him for the stupid remarks.

    January 11, 2010 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  17. Lillie

    Apology accepted, Sen. Reed.....let's move forward together! And to all those Republican hypocrites on TV that are acting like they're the diversity guru"s, PLEEZ stop the drama!!!

    January 11, 2010 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  18. good-bye global warming

    Redneck Reid should step down. There's no place in Congress for racism. But these remarks were not nearly as bad as the remarks made by Bill Clinton. "A few years ago, this guy would be getting us coffee". Say what?! Why isn't CNN covering this?

    January 11, 2010 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  19. stephensonbillings

    Yes, I also hear that Reid voted in favor of the Emancipation Proclamation when then president Lincoln proposed it.

    January 11, 2010 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  20. Marshall


    January 11, 2010 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  21. Rick CT

    Of course Obama's going to accept. He needs Reid as part of the secret negotiations to put forth a final health care bill that will be rammed through before anyone has a chance to understand what they put in it.

    January 11, 2010 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  22. James Monroe, Wiggins, Mississippi

    No matter how the Democrats spin it, Reid said, in essence, that no dark-skinned black with any hint of a Negro dialect could be elected president. He allowed what was deep in his heart to come out. People don't realize or will not admit how racially offensive his inner thoughts are, but he was saying, in effect, that blacks with wide noses, dark skin, and/or big lips can't compete in beauty contests, political races, business or other ventures. He reinforced his and other peoples' hidden inner prejudices. Reid and other Democrats coddle to blacks with pretty words when they are truly prejudiced inside. Reid meant that a hand-picked black who looked, sounded and acted white enough was the only black qualified for anything. The man should be ridden out of town on a rail. The good citizens of Nevada will surely rid the nation this man and his vile, black inner-soul.

    January 11, 2010 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  23. Sal Akpos

    This is clear apples and oranges. There is little moral relativity here. Trent Lott implied that he supported the time of racial inequality. Harry Reid who has always supported African American causes, stated a fact that we all know. Its just not politically correct to say so.

    January 11, 2010 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  24. Liberal wingnut

    Another liberal media free pass.

    January 11, 2010 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  25. Hilroy

    So you think racism has ended since we have a new president? NO NO! It was just a distraction. Look at the disrepect the president is getting from the " tea party express" with their cloaked virulent racist followers and this will be the lead up to some ugly racial turmoil.

    Before it gets better it will get worse and then we will have to pray for divine intervention.

    January 11, 2010 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
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