January 10th, 2010
06:44 PM ET
12 years ago

Steele, senator call for Reid to step down over race remark

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/01/10/art.steele0110.gi.jpg caption=" Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid should give up his post following publication of remarks he made in 2008 about President Barack Obama, RNC Chairman Michael Steele said Sunday."]
Washington (CNN) - The chairman of the Republican Party and a leading GOP senator called on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to give up his post Sunday, following the publication of remarks he made about President Barack Obama's race in 2008.

The remarks were "embarrassing and racially insensitive," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, head of the GOP's Senate campaign arm, in a statement to CNN.

Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele, on NBC's "Meet the Press," said. "Racism and racist conversations have no place today in America."

Steele was also on the defensive for a remark he made last week that members of both parties have called a racial slur.

Democrats rejected the calls for Reid's dismissal, and Reid's office made clear he has no plans to step down.

"Sen. Reid will stay in his position as Majority Leader and will run for reelection," his spokesman said.

"As the leader in the fight to pass the Voting Rights Act and legislation banning hate crimes, Sen. Reid has a long record of addressing issues that are important to the African-American community. His Republican critics who are looking to politicize the issue can't say the same."

The controversy surrounds remarks published in a new book, "Game Change," which goes on sale Monday. It quotes Reid, D-Nevada, as saying privately in 2008 that Obama could be successful as a black candidate in part because of his "light-skinned" appearance and 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."

In a statement to CNN, Reid said, "I deeply regret using such a poor choice of words."

"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 said.

In his defense, he pointed to his efforts to integrate the Las Vegas strip and the gaming industry, among other legislation favored by African-American voters.

"I have worked hard to advance issues important to the African-American community," he said.

And the senate leader called Obama on Saturday afternoon to apologize for the remarks. In a statement issued after the call, Obama said, "As far as I am concerned, the book is closed."

"Harry Reid called me today and apologized for an unfortunate comment reported today," the president said. "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."

An aide to the senator told CNN that Reid also offered apologies to several prominent African-American political figures, including House Democrats Jim Clyburn of South Carolina and Barbara Lee of California; the Rev. Al Sharpton; CNN political contributor and Democratic strategist Donna Brazile; NAACP chairman Julian Bond; and the head of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, Wade Henderson.

Steele, the GOP's first African-American chairman, was asked about the remarks on both "Meet the Press" and "FOX News Sunday." He told NBC Sunday he believes Reid is out of touch with "how African-Americans generally feel" about sensitive issues.

Steele was asked by NBC whether he believes the situation is similar to one involving former Senator Trent Lott, who lost his post as Senate majority leader in 2002 after saying that the nation would have been better off if one-time segregationist candidate Strom Thurmond had been elected president.

"Oh, yeah. There is a big double standard here," Steele said on NBC. He added, "When Democrats get caught saying racist things, you know, an apology is enough." Steele said that if a Republican senator had made the same remark Reid did, Steele himself and the Democratic Party "would be screaming for his head very much as they were with Trent Lott."

Cornyn, in his statement, also accused Democrats of following a "double standard," and noted that they had pushed Lott to step down.

He added that said Reid "has yet to clarify" his remarks. "As we await his explanation, Senator Reid should do the right thing, follow the example that he himself set in 2002, and step down as majority leader."

Gov. Tim Kaine of Virginia, chairman of the Democratic Party, shot back against those arguments. "Anybody looking at Trent Lott's statements praising somebody who had been a pro-segregation candidate for president will see that there is no comparison between those comments and those of Sen. Reid's," he
told NBC.

Kaine said "the case is closed" following Reid's round of apologies. The comments "were in the context of praising the senator and acknowledging that the senator could be a great president but they were still insensitive," Kaine said.

Asked whether Reid should resign, he responded, "Absolutely not," and added, "We're moving on."

Nevada's state Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, who is African-American, reaffirmed his support for Reid in a statement Saturday.

"While I am disappointed in Senator Reid's comment and choice of words, I accept his apology," said Horsford, a Democrat. "I have known Senator Reid for many years and he has consistently been supportive of advancing the interests of the African-American community as he has for all Nevadans and all Americans."

Steele, meanwhile, was asked about his remark in a Fox News interview last week that 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.

Updated: 6:44 p.m.

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

Filed under: Harry Reid • Michael Steele • Popular Posts • President Obama
soundoff (300 Responses)
  1. Socrates

    Guys like Steele.. who is a token black guy in the GOP.. wants Reid to step down? Humm.. And how come he didn't say request that Bush and Cheney should step down after bringing this country to a war that was based on LIES and DECEPTION? WHy Steele didn't say anything because as a result of the Bush/Cheney lies.. 4,300 young soldiers died, more than 36,000 are wounded emotionally and physically.. and widows, children without their Fathers and 100,000 iraquies are dead just because Bush/Cheney lied saying that, first, Saddam Husseing had weapons of mass desturction.. then they changed their lie and said that Saddam Hussein had links with OSama Bin Laden.. anddd.. on top of that.. Osama Bin Laden still is alive.. and Hulliburton made billions of dollars in profits and I am sure Cheney and Bush are collecting now.. and Steele, the token black guy in the GOP wants Reid to resign..? Obama accepted hgis apologies and Obama is trying to fix the mess Steele's masters made on this country in 8 YEARS.
    Steele.. shame of you.. Aren't you embarrased to work for the GOP?

    January 10, 2010 06:59 pm at 6:59 pm |
  2. R M

    The GOP, or in this case Michael Steele denouncing a democrat as being racist? The pot calling the kettle BLACK, much??

    January 10, 2010 07:00 pm at 7:00 pm |
  3. thersa

    Is it just me, or are the Republicans becoming more ridiculous by the minute?

    January 10, 2010 07:01 pm at 7:01 pm |
  4. Mary in CT

    Let the voters decide if the senator represents them and their interests. That's how it should always be.

    January 10, 2010 07:03 pm at 7:03 pm |
  5. Flipper

    Nobody circles the wagons around a racist like the Democrat Party.

    January 10, 2010 07:06 pm at 7:06 pm |
  6. Juan

    As a black man I would accept Mr. Reids apology before I listen to anything coming from Michael Steele. I am not sure what minority is naive enough to think that every politician in the DNC is a non-racist. However, until you find evidence of Harry Reid trying to sabotage any and everything President Obama is trying to do I will accept his apology as sincere and hope he has grown as a human.

    January 10, 2010 07:13 pm at 7:13 pm |
  7. fmjk

    Steele should be careful about what he wishes for. Many Dems would prefer a stronger, more charismatic Senate leader... don't know why Steele would be pushing for a change. But then again, Steele probably thinks the RNC needs a new leader too!

    January 10, 2010 07:13 pm at 7:13 pm |
  8. Unfazed in TX

    Once again, our President has taken the high road. He is just a class act. On the other hand, take note of who is most vocal about this and shun them.

    January 10, 2010 07:15 pm at 7:15 pm |
  9. Great Northwest

    Stelle why don.t you go crawl into a hot air baloon where you really belong and float away never to be seen or heard from again.
    Good idea take the rest of the party of no along with you what a great day that would be .

    January 10, 2010 07:20 pm at 7:20 pm |
  10. ComradeObummer

    The DUMocRATS jump on Joe Wilson, but once again, look the other way when its a DUMocRAT making RACIAL comments.


    January 10, 2010 07:20 pm at 7:20 pm |
  11. ComradeObummer

    Joe Wilson WAS RIGHT.

    OBOZO is a liar.

    January 10, 2010 07:22 pm at 7:22 pm |
  12. GonzoinHouston

    Pubbers think Reid should step down. Wotta shock!

    January 10, 2010 07:24 pm at 7:24 pm |
  13. Peter Vaguely

    If this is the litmus test for congress then 1/2 the Republican party need not show up for work on Monday!

    January 10, 2010 07:27 pm at 7:27 pm |
  14. ThinkAgain

    Memo to Steele and all Republicans: This is a matter for the Democrats. Senator Reid apologized to President Obama, the apology was accepted, case closed.

    Maybe the Republicans should use their tiny little brains to try and come up with something constructive for our country, instead of all their divisive, obstructionist nonsense.

    * deafening silence ensues *

    January 10, 2010 07:28 pm at 7:28 pm |
  15. newyorkcityrunner

    This coming from a republican. The party of hate, racism and greed. He made a mistake, he didn't mean it in a racist manor, he apologized for his mistake. We all move on. Plenty of republican's have made racist comments and not one of them has stepped down.

    He apologized without being asked to or told to. A republican would never apologize unless forced. Republicans disgust me. And frankly Steele just wants to take everyone down while he is going down himself for his ridiculous, albeit agreeable, commentary about his own party..

    January 10, 2010 07:38 pm at 7:38 pm |
  16. Baby Boomer

    Ok. He was wrong. I'm glad he apologized but he was wrong to have said it in the first place. The sad thing is, what he said was true. Unfortunately, in America lighter skinned African Americans are more acceptable. Just look at Halle Berry and her Oscar win. Does anyone really believe her to be a better actress than, oh I don't know, Angela Bassett. So while it's not the most pleasant thought, fact are facts. Maybe more people than just Harry Reid have to change in this country for such thoughts to really become a thing of the past...

    January 10, 2010 07:54 pm at 7:54 pm |
  17. Baby Boomer

    Oh and one more thing. Michael Steele is simply a joke...

    January 10, 2010 07:55 pm at 7:55 pm |
  18. coolchange

    Instead of Moving Your Money to community banks or credit unions, we should all move our attention away from media outlets who constantly keep mess stirred up just for ratings instead of telling the American people the truth.

    January 10, 2010 07:58 pm at 7:58 pm |
  19. ToGetherWeStand

    Sorry, but this another rdiculous political move by the GOP to distract voters from our true issues and challenges.

    Mr. Reid's private comments were not derogatory and not prejudicious; he could used a better choice of words, but we all run into this once in a while.

    Mr. Reid apologized appropriately. Let's move on to the issues that truly matter.

    January 10, 2010 07:59 pm at 7:59 pm |
  20. annie against biased news

    dirty harry and book writing steele should both step down.

    January 10, 2010 07:59 pm at 7:59 pm |
  21. freda

    Michael Steele is a piece of work. He's full of himself for having the audacity to suggest that anyone should give up a post. Each statement he makes is a testimony to his being not as educated as he thinks he is. His people on day 1 knew they were going to kick him to the curb. They only used him as ammunition against President Obama.

    January 10, 2010 08:01 pm at 8:01 pm |
  22. Watchdog

    Wake up people!!...The DEMS are the ones sandbagging Reid.
    The do NOT want him to run for re-election.
    They see the polls in Nevada...they know Harry is DONE!!!!!

    January 10, 2010 08:01 pm at 8:01 pm |
  23. Merle

    Ried is dislussional...Glad i switched to being an independent. The party i was formerly affiliated with has COMPLETELY lost touch with America...Republicans aint doing any better. DONT RUN AGAIN REID...YOUR OLD NEWS.

    January 10, 2010 08:02 pm at 8:02 pm |
  24. andrewstl

    michael u should step down for being stupid and lost

    January 10, 2010 08:11 pm at 8:11 pm |
  25. Tom B

    Yes – Senator Reid, please step down as senate majority leader for the good of the country. Can Pelosi step down too? I think there are better democratic leaders in both the senate and house.

    January 10, 2010 08:13 pm at 8:13 pm |
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