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. Karen in Charlotte

    Reid's use of the word "Negroe" is, in my opinion, the equivalent of Steele's use of the phrase "honest injun." If Steele thinks Reid's words are sufficient to call for him to step down, then Steele's words are also sufficient to call for him to resign his post. Both of these men used racially insensitive language - that doesn't necessarily mean either one of them is a racist. All you have to do is look at Reid's record to know where he stands on equality in the pursuit of the American Dream. All you have to do is look at their actions in response to their errors to know what is in their hearts. How many Native Americans did Steele reach out to after his unfortunate choice of words?

    January 11, 2010 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  2. victim of democrat hypocrisy

    Just goes to show ya–dems can say any racist remark and get away with it because they're dems.

    Oh, the hypocrisy!

    January 11, 2010 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  3. Is 4 years up yet?

    Harry Reid should not only resign for his ignorant comments,(that have happened more than once), but he should resign because he's god awful at his job. No one likes a racist but on top of that, an incompetent one as well. Either way he's done in Novemeber.

    January 11, 2010 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  4. matthew

    what a desperate man. I am from the same home town as Sen. Trent Lott and I personally saw the utter gang style rape the media perpatrated on my freind Trent Lott. Why is this liberal raving lunitic not recieving the same treatment? It is simple the media knows he is already defeated, and they do not wish to cause any more harm to the democratic party than has already been done by the tripod, Obama, Pelosi, and Ried. Good ridance you old bafoon.

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

    Look, Senator Reid just described in very clumsy language a sad and unfortunate aspect of our current political and societal culture, where too many people cling to stereotypes instead of actually getting to know others who are not like them.

    President Obama knew that he'd have to overcome these stereotypes, which is why, in part, he spent almost two whole years campaigning all across our country. He wanted people to get to know him, his ideas, his policies and the direction he wanted to take our country.

    Over those two years, he showed everyone his consistency, stamina, intelligence, thoughtfulness, and genuine love and regard for our nation and its people. For these reasons, he was elected president.

    And I think as people ponder what Senator Reid said, they accept his apology, as the President and others have done, and would like to get back to the pressing challenges facing our country.

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

    I am a black man and i say__MOVE ON!! Get something worth talking about. And by the way–what he said IS TRUE so get over it.

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

    Harry I hate to say it, but Lott did get kicked out for the same thing. I support the Democratic party but I can't ride on this train. Harry, pick a replacement and ride off into the sunset.

    January 11, 2010 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  8. demwit

    Yeah! African-Americans are clearly much better off than they were 40 years ago thanks to Harry's work!!

    Oh wait...

    January 11, 2010 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  9. Dodd Democrat...

    Reid needs to quit......

    Her most recent remark is so bad.....and anyone trying to defend his words is full of it.

    I was offended as were many African Americans across the nation.

    Reid has turned out to be a jerk at best and a racist at worst.

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

    Go home, Senator Reid. Your days of trying to ruin this great nation are numbered.

    January 11, 2010 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  11. Tia Lively

    "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."...That is all well and good, but My Goodness Reid, seems like you have forgotten to do work for others than the African-Americans out here. It is true that the African-Americans make up a large part of the democrat constituency, but shouldn't the Senate of the US work for all people of the US?

    January 11, 2010 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  12. Jim

    I didn't used to like Harry Reid but I think he has done a terrific job with the health care bill and now I am a big fan. Plus, the Republicans have whined so much about so many things, its just hard to take them seriously at this point. They're always screaming and making demands that other people get fired or apologize. They seem to forget how bad of a job they did when they had power.

    January 11, 2010 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  13. JES

    You are nothing but a back stabber to the American people and the President. If you are so sorry why did you wait until the book is about to come out.

    You are and will always be a joke in my book and the American people are to blame for letting you serve as long as you have.

    Double standards for most of the Dems anyway. You do get your cake, eat it, and continue to spend our money for what the minority want not the majority.

    I hope it's good bye in 2010 if not it should be.

    January 11, 2010 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  14. gt

    just proves ried had his own ideas of how a black man should speak,, speak white to whites ,, black to blacks in there lanuage,,,ried must believer in ebonomics.... ha ha ha

    January 11, 2010 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  15. Ancient Texan

    A Liberal Democrat can say or do anthing and no matter how offensive it is, it's o.k. and will be swept under the rug or apologized for and forgotten by the rest of the democrats. Reid has made statements in the past that should have been reason for censure or removal from the leaders post,; all is well with the Democrats. If anyone else of any other party said the same things, it's grounds for removal and the tar and feathers. Who would have guessed?

    January 11, 2010 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  16. Birac

    I am a long time registered democrat and among the many who could care less about Harry Reid. The country and the senate would be better off if he would just go away. Maybe the people of Nevada will wise up and vote him out of office in November.

    January 11, 2010 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  17. Franky, Land of Lincoln

    Is alright, is not like he ain't the only white man who said this before...I'm sorry, I believe white people like to be called "Americans" instead if I'm not mistaken, 🙂

    A lot of books have been coming out, huh? Too many for that matter. All I hope is that there constructive or well intent for their audience. As long it shows a good and well sense of satisfaction to the American people, I'm cool with it and I'm sure ALL of the politicians are in fact.

    I heard about the news and the controversy but haven't got its full content and context of it. But is alright, is not like our Prez is not used to it already...just be good next time and please, next time use the proper language or at least think for once.

    January 11, 2010 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  18. aproudmemberoftheunpatrioticmob

    So I guess the hypocritica liberal aplogists are saying that Reid put the idea in Obozo's head. More bad judgement on Reids part. This has been a disaster for America. And so now we know we can blame Reid an send him back to his taxpayer paid for Nevada ranch in November.

    January 11, 2010 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  19. Nadia

    Yes the double standard is deafening. What do you expect? Sharpton, NAACP etc are all about fattening their pockets while keeping their followers/minions down. They don't care about the poor. Same for most Democrats in Congress! Their thinking is just give the poor a few crumbs/handouts and you'll have their vote.
    The poor have voted Democrat for decades and they are still no better off. Just remember it was the Democrats that fought to KEEP slavery ALIVE. And they are the same ones fight to keep minorites down!

    Don't believe me? Look it up. BTW: Wasn't Bill Clinton the "first black president"? Don't you just love what he said to Kennedy about Obama behind closed doors? How many more of these "poor choice of words" do you need to see the DEMS true colors?

    January 11, 2010 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  20. Dean

    BYe bye Harry.

    January 11, 2010 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  21. Sue


    Based on Reid's own words...............

    I guess that he would not have been so proud of his early support for Obama.........If he was a medium/dark skinned black who spoke with a negro dialect.

    Reid..........if you and the Democrats think that this is going to go away--You are WRONG!!!!

    Just because the liberals believe the lies/excuses/spin regarding Reid's racist statements-–the Independents will NOT believe them.

    January 11, 2010 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  22. SocialismBad

    Reid is guilty of racial attack and I am concerned about ALL of this more than anything else (Jobs, Economy, War whatever) BECAUSE
    I believe when my Sarah Baby gets elected in 2012 as President, she will fix and address all (right now, if there is more shet, the better for me!!!)

    January 11, 2010 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  23. Bob

    Racism is racism. To see the Democrats covering for Reid is disturbing. If this had been anyone else but a Democrat, there would be hell to pay. Just shows everyone that DC is still a cesspool that just keeps getting dirtier and more foul.

    January 11, 2010 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  24. dak

    "Republicans pounced on the controversy"

    Well, of course they did! That's just the opportunistic crap we've come to expect from the minority party that hasn't done ANYTHING positive for this country for at least 10 years and has done LESS THAN NOTHING for the the African American community for even longer! Comparing Majority Leader Reid's unfortunate choice of words to Trent Lott's totally racist remarks is beyond ridiculous. Harry should have chosen his words better, but his comments were absolutely true and not in the least bit racist! Michael Steele should apologize every singe DAY to the African American community for accepting a job as the "token" for the RNC!

    January 11, 2010 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  25. Walker

    Everytime she opens her mouth the American public gets a little bit more dumb.

    January 11, 2010 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
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