January 11th, 2010
03:49 PM ET
11 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. wake up

    dems use african americans for their own gain! when will minorities wake up and understand, that democrats use them!! Why are dems anti "free school choice"? Dems want to keep minorities down. Reid is exactly like most dems! He believes african americans are beneath him.

    January 11, 2010 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  2. democrats are narrow-minded

    Reid should be FIRED for his terrible policies.

    January 11, 2010 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  3. CTGirl

    He spoke the truth, therefore, I am not offended. This is a gaffe at best, nothing racist. Let's get back to the business at hand. Steele is merely seeking cover, he is being disingenuous.

    January 11, 2010 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  4. Ndubueze Chuku

    Can you people leave Harry Reid alone? You guys are being more catholic than the pope. In as much as Harry Reid used poor choice of words there, I do not see the BIG DEAL in this issue. And, I am black.

    January 11, 2010 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |
  5. JohnP

    samo samo; The "liberals" can say whatever they want, no foul, the repubs get crucified.

    January 11, 2010 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  6. Bpin

    Yeah, so what was he saying behind Obama's back? Maybe a few "off color" comments? If this bigot did not do anything wrong, why is he out making so many apologies to black leaders? Why is he begging for forgiveness? I cannot stnd Don Imus, but how come his apology was not good enough? Last time I checked, he is a human being? Why can one man be forgiven and another not? Political factions did away with the Roman empire. Some people never learn. So the new racial divide in this country is now democrats and republicans. One set of Baboons and another set of monkeys.

    January 11, 2010 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  7. American45

    You will not be missed, Harry. Go home!

    January 11, 2010 05:06 pm at 5:06 pm |
  8. JT the Show Me State College Freshman

    This is a message to all Americans out there:
    Have you ever wondered why we are having a hard time moving foward in our dream to make America the truly great country it intends for us to make it?
    This is a part of the reason why we are having a hard time; we are still stuck in the pre-historic mindset of letting the issue of race get in the way of us paying attention to what we should really be paying attention to out there: Healthcare reform, financial regulation, environmental problems.
    What Senator Reid said was a very poor choice of words, and he apologized like he should have; President Obama accepted it, and said "the book was closed on the issue." He is right; it is time for us to move foward for once in our life, and not let the issue of race cloud our judgment in making the right decisions. If we cannot move on past our own personal prejudices as a person and as a nation, then we will never see equality before the law, equal oppurtunity, equality of outcome, gender equality, racial equality, and social equality. Lets go on to more important issues facing our nation like I explained above; thank you.

    January 11, 2010 05:14 pm at 5:14 pm |
  9. Bradshaw

    Steele should talk: honest injun!

    January 11, 2010 05:14 pm at 5:14 pm |
  10. Dominican mama 4 Obama


    are ALL of my comments being vetted by your moderators? I've checked them for accuracy as usual. I saw that Barack the Magic Negro made it through moderation with NO problem, though.

    January 11, 2010 05:15 pm at 5:15 pm |
  11. G-er

    Harry Reid is an idiot!

    January 11, 2010 05:15 pm at 5:15 pm |
  12. Joe

    May we say that Reid could be elected a senator because he is a light-skinned black, who does not speak Negro-dialect"?

    January 11, 2010 05:16 pm at 5:16 pm |
  13. David in San Diego

    The Reid flap is a big to-do about nothing, kept alive by the Republican'ts and the media. It has no equivalence to the Trent Lott situation. Lott said, in effect, we would be better off if a segregationist had been running the country. That is both stupid and wrong. Reid said (quite correctly) that, in essense (no pun intended) Al Sharpton could not be elected President, not could any African-American who looked dangerously black and adhered to an ebonic dialect–he was complimenting Obama while insulting, if anyone, other African-Americans who are "blacker" in appearance and image. But Reid was (unfortunately) correct and Lott was (fortunately) incorrect, and in addition it is reasonable to consider intent as well as the words in deciding what something means.

    January 11, 2010 05:17 pm at 5:17 pm |
  14. Pat F

    Democrats are party hacks – disloyal Americans, with loyalty only to other party functionaries.

    If Reid was a Republican, Democrats would have run him out of Washington on a rail, tarred and feathered.

    January 11, 2010 05:27 pm at 5:27 pm |
  15. Grandsons2

    President Obama remains focused on the true issues at hand. Why can't the rest of America do the same. Race is an issue, always has been, always will be. White slave masters brought us over on ships and then had the nerve to get mad that we could actually think and chew gum at the same time. Got over it! Race is always going to be an issue...it doesn't matter the color of your skin, it is the color of your blood and I'm pretty sure we all bleed red. Including the phoney republicans. Let it go. What happened to the pride of seeing our President welcomed around the world as the articulate, kind, handsome, INTELLIGENT, down-right smart, reasonable, elegant man that he is. Let's pray for our President, his family, his cabinet and all the law makers on the Hill to come together and do what is best for our country...otherwise it won't matter what color skin any of us have because it will all be FRIED!!!!!!!!!!!!

    January 11, 2010 05:38 pm at 5:38 pm |
  16. Baby Boomer

    Lots of people on various blogs have been asking why black leaders are not up in arms over Harry Reid's comments vs. Trent Lott's back in 2002.. Well for me it's because they have such different voting records. Former Senator Lott would have had our country remain segragated according to his own statements. He voted against the ML King holiday, the voting rights act, etc. Conversely Senator Reid voted for the holiday and the voting rights act and countless other pieces of legislation that helped improve the lives of people of color. So you see, everything isn't about being a Democrat or Republican. It's about the content of both men's characters and what each trying to do for this country.

    January 11, 2010 05:38 pm at 5:38 pm |
  17. Can't believe we haven't learned

    When will people start voting AGAINST all incumbents and put what we can only hope would be representatives that at least start off trying to do right for the people that elect them? Most all persons, when asked, dislike Congress and the Senate but continue to re-elect the very same people they don't like. I just don't get it people!

    January 11, 2010 05:43 pm at 5:43 pm |
  18. rob

    The sad thing is that the Black community believes the Dems are helping them and care for them. The truth is People like Reid, Clinton, Biden etc only "Tolerate" them in their party because they're a lock in every election. But judging from their comments, these "Elites" at best look down at these poor people. Its about time the Black community wakes up and really thinks about their support of these dispicable party.

    January 11, 2010 06:09 pm at 6:09 pm |
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