January 12th, 2010
12:05 PM ET
5 years ago

McConnell declines to call for Reid to step aside

Washington (CNN) - Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell declined Tuesday to follow some of his GOP colleagues who are calling for Sen. Harry Reid to step aside as Senate Majority Leader.

"I think that is an issue for the Democratic conference," McConnell said at morning press conference at the Capitol.

When pressed by CNN as to whether that means he does not agree with Republicans calling for Reid to be ousted, McConnell simple repeated, "I think that's an issue for the Democratic conference."

On Sunday, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said that if McConnell had been the one to utter Reid's racially insensitive quote about President Obama, Democrats would be calling for McConnell's head.


When asked if he agrees, again, McConnell wouldn't respond directly. "Who is going be the Democratic leader of the Senate is up to the Democratic conference," he said.

Reid is quoted in the new book "Game Change" saying he thought early on that Barack Obama had a good chance at becoming president because he was "light-skinned" and doesn't speak with a "Negro dialect."

Why is McConnell giving Reid a pass?

Republican leadership aides, speaking on condition of anonymity in order to speak freely about McConnell's thinking, suggested McConnell knows its very unlikely Reid will step down as leader, and the two have a good working relationship he wants to maintain. The two leading Republicans who have called for Reid to step down as Majority Leader have highly political positions: RNC Chairman Michael Steele and Sen. John Cornyn, who is chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee in charge of electing Republicans to the Senate.

Steele and other Republicans have been comparing Reid's comments to racially insensitive remarks that cost Republican leader Trent Lott his post in 2002, and accusing Democrats of a double standard. During a 100th birthday celebration that year for Sen. Strom Thurmond, Lott said the country would be better off if Thurmond, who had run for president as a segregationist, would have won.

The GOP senator who now holds Lott's Mississippi seat also declined to call for Reid's ouster, saying he believes it's up to the people of Reid's state of Nevada to decide his political fate.

"There is a particular interest in our state because of what Senator Lott went through," said Sen. Roger Wicker. "(But) I think the voters of Nevada will make a judgment about that," referring to Reid's political future.

Reid, who is up for re-election this year, was already down on the polls and in the political fight of his life before news broke of his controversial remarks.


Filed under: Harry Reid • Mitch McConnell • Senate
soundoff (89 Responses)
  1. A Guy

    Trent Lott openly praised a segregationist. The comparisons to Reid's remarks are an insult to anyone with a 5th grade education or higher.

    January 12, 2010 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  2. Donkey Party

    Delusional as usual from the righties trying to comapare this to Lott. Sorry, not even close. Apples and onions.

    January 12, 2010 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  3. Traj

    Michael Steele is stupid.

    January 12, 2010 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  4. Let's hear it for Dr. No

    Very nice of McConnell. Now, will someone ask McConnell to step down!!!

    January 12, 2010 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  5. Sarah

    Yes if McConnell had made that remark about Obama we as Democrats would have his head.......because thats all that comes out of the mouths of the Republicans, is hate, lies, scare, fear, and all negative remarks on this President whether it is racial or political......we are tired of the constant NO NO NO that comes out of the mouths of the GOP and we will show you in the 2010 elections how disappointed we are in your behavior.......

    January 12, 2010 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  6. TM in CO

    Negro, black, colored. Doesn't matter what word you use, it will always be considered a "racial" slur. I really believe that it is the African-American (this term makes no sense to me either cause everyone should be American first if you were born here) community that keeps the whole race issue going. Geeze. Just be American.

    January 12, 2010 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  7. Mickey

    Wise choice...uncommon for a Republican. He probably didn't get the fax from Rush Limbaugh before he spoke...

    January 12, 2010 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  8. Mrs. Brown

    Ok, I am a BLACK woman. This mans comments did not offend me. I don't really understand what the problem is. What I see as a problem is the rate of preventable diseases that americans are dying from due to lack of insurance, black infant death mortality, homeless VETERANS and people sitting in jail serving time for crimes they did not commit.These are problems, address these issue and leave this man alone, he is HUMAN. I don't see the man as racist. Every opinion that one makes and every statement that comes out of ones mouth should not be automatically considered racist. Maybe it wasn't the right choice of words but to make him step down from his position, GIVE ME A BREAK. Deliberately calling the PRESIDENT A lIAR, that is totally disrespectful and if anyone should step down, this man should have. This world has greater issues. President Obama says it is CLOSED, then take him at his word and move on.

    January 12, 2010 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  9. Dale

    "On Sunday, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said that if McConnell had been the one to utter Reid's racially insensitive quote about President Obama, Democrats would be calling for McConnell's head."

    And all the Republicans would have been jumping up and down screaming about First Amendment rights and how it wasn't racial, etc.

    The double-standard works both ways, folks. Mitch has been around long enough to know that if he speaks up here, he'll have to speak up in a few months when another Republican puts his foot in his mouth and that won't do him any good. Best to keep quiet and hope it all goes away.

    January 12, 2010 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  10. Joseph-Ohio

    Good for you McConnell! Even the President himself has put this behind him. However, Republican are always looking for more things to complain about, so oh well.....here we go again.

    January 12, 2010 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  11. Michael from Ventura

    I would think! Or did Mitch just automatically just say "NO".

    January 12, 2010 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  12. Fair is Fair

    "On Sunday, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said that if McConnell had been the one to utter Reid's racially insensitive quote about President Obama, Democrats would be calling for McConnell's head."

    So very true – just like they did Lott's.

    The Republicans are wise to take the high road on this one.

    January 12, 2010 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  13. Objective Thinking

    While people like Michael Steele are hypocrites, they are also correct: The Democrats WOULD be calling for the heads of any Republican for making the exact same remark in the exact same context with the exact same intentions.

    If a Democrat says it, the reaction is "well it's true." If a Republican says it, the reaction is "how racially insensitive!"

    January 12, 2010 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  14. James Napoli

    Nice to see at least one republican not playing partisan poltics with this issue.

    January 12, 2010 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  15. gary davis Harbor Oregon proud american

    now its getting real sick but funny MITCH McCONNELL probably doesn't want to touch the issue in fear someone might dig something he may have said in the past about someone or something racist . he is smart to dodge the issue . and for Micheal Steele he is just bantering to save his job as being the republican purist party pupit. LOL again its sick but now its back firing on the purist party . the whites only southern purist GOP :)
    Reid didn't say anything racist just his opinion . and most of america agrees , and if nothing else it will help bring the problem to light . and maybe we americans can continue to improve on being more human
    (((( my blood is that of humanity)))) ,how about yours ?

    January 12, 2010 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  16. Bedtime for Obonzo

    Right on, Mitch. Why throw away a perfectly good albatross?

    January 12, 2010 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  17. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    What McConnell is really saying is Michael Steele needs to focus on the job he has failed to do and the GOP aren't making any gains either while wasting time on one single minded, do nothing issue that is no more than a distraction.

    January 12, 2010 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  18. Laurie in Spokane

    I don't know what the fuss is all about, truly I don't. What Reid wrote in the book is true. That's not racist, it's just the truth. The country was ready for a change for sure after Bush and his minions. Obama fit the bill, and he happened to be half black half white....good compromise.

    January 12, 2010 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  19. Joseph B

    McConnell does not want Reid to step down as Reid has been an ineffective leader for the Democratic Senate Majority.

    January 12, 2010 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  20. Mike1952

    At least most republicans have a head on their shoulders. Not like Hairy and all the rest that pummeled Lott for trying to make an old man feel good on his birthday. Only dimocrats can make a mistake. Hypocrites all!

    January 12, 2010 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  21. Republicans have weak "leaders"

    This is why we need new Republican Leadership. These clowns are too weak to fight on the same level as the sleazy Democrats.

    Democrats ALWAYS go straight to the gutter. Republicans act as if this is a simple misunderstanding among business colleagues.

    January 12, 2010 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  22. Average Guy in Red-State Kansas

    Hmmmm... Do I detect a fault line in the Grand Old Party? The fact that Mr. McConnell is coming across as resembling a voice of reason in the party is something I never thought I'd live to witness.

    His "reasonable" attitude sure is a contrast to those of the sneering Michael Steel and the imperious John Cornyn.

    January 12, 2010 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  23. Sea.gem

    Everyone, including McConnell knows the double-standard Dems will not ak him to step down so there is no need to respond to any perceived 'disagreement'...the question they did not ask him was about the double-standard that exists...another way CNN tries to spin the story so the focus is off reid and the Dems.

    January 12, 2010 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  24. OldUncleTom

    People forget little details. Sure, Democrats howled about Sen Lott's comments, and took them out of context.

    What we forget is that it was the GOP who tossed Lott under the bus, but for other reasons. I'd like to get an honest interview with Bill Frist on this issue.

    January 12, 2010 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  25. Kevin in Ohio

    Reid shouldnt step down....his insistence on staying spells the end of the lib eral democrat reign of terror.

    January 12, 2010 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
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