Steele Calls on Reid to Resign
as Senate Leader After Obama 'Negro' Comment
Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele on Sunday
called on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to resign for describing
Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign as "light-skinned"
with "no Negro dialect" unless he wants to have one.
FoxNews. January 10, 2010. Republican National Committee Chairman
Michael Steele on Sunday called on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to
resign for describing Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign
as "light-skinned" with "no Negro dialect" unless he wants to have one.
Steele also accused Democrats of hypocrisy on the matter.
"There is this standard where Democrats feel that they can say these
things and they can apologize when it comes from the mouths of their
own. But if it comes from anyone else, it is racism," Steele told "Fox
"If (Senate Minority Leader) Mitch McConnell had said those very words
that this chairman and this president would be calling for his head, and
they would be labeling every Republican in the country as a racist for
saying exactly what this chairman has just said," Steele continued.
Reid went into damage control over the weekend, mobilizing a raft of
supportive statements both in Washington, D.C., and Nevada.
Reid spoke by phone to numerous senators and took part in the regular
weekend call with Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island to go over the Sunday
show talking points on his gaffe and other topics.
Reed and Reid were on the call with staff members for Sens. Dianne
Feinstein and Joe Lieberman. The message: Reid did it, it was wrong, he
apologized immediately, the president has accepted the apologize, time
to move on.
"Harry Reid made a misstatement. He owned up to it. He apologized. I
think he is mortified by the statement he's made," Reed said on "Fox
News Sunday." "And I don't think he should step down. I think he's a
valuable member of the Senate and someone who's going to continue to
Reid also called prominent African Americans, including National Action
Network head Al Sharpton, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, NAACP
Chairman Julian Bond, House Majority Whip James Clyburn, Congressional
Black Caucus Chairwoman Rep. Barbara Lee and Leadership Conference on
Civil Rights chief Wade Henderson.
Reid was not going to speak publicly about the matter on Sunday. As of
now, aides say he has no plans to cancel his appearance at a scheduled
event on energy on Capitol Hill on Monday.
Reid is taking ownership of his comments, having made the remarks
directly to one of the authors of "Game Change," the tell-all book on
the 2008 presidential campaign being released Tuesday. Reid spoke
straight to author Mark Halperin in context of what he believed was a
positive statement about why he backed Obama as early as he did.
Reid and his staff did not expect this direct quote to appear in the
book and he began apologizing shortly after the excerpts were reported
on the Web site of The Atlantic magazine. According to several sources
familiar with the senator's actions, Reid called Obama from his home in
Searchlight, Nev. Obama took the call in the Oval Office.
"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," Reid said in a statement.
"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
In a written statement Saturday, Obama said he accepted Reid'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."
"As far as I am concerned, the book is closed," he added.
A senior Democratic source with close contacts on Capitol Hill said Reid
is not depending only on Obama for forgiveness.
"He's in the midst of an aggressive mea culpa tour that has thus far
produced supportive statements from key African American leaders in the
Congress and civil rights community. He's got a strong record on social
justice and related issues and is doing the right thing by immediately
taking responsibility for the comment. He knows it was a boneheaded
thing to say and is showing appropriate remorse," the source said.
Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine also defended Reid. "I
don't think this is an issue that is going affect his leadership at all.
In fact, he's doing some very heavy lifting -- wonderful lifting right
now to get this health care bill over the goal line," Kaine told "Fox
The Democratic source added that Reid will likely not lose his position,
as Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott did after his 2002 tribute to the
now-deceased Sen. Strom Thurmond on his 100th birthday.
"The only way he gets deposed is if the Democrats decide they have a
political interest in seeing him go. Based on the reaction thus far,
he'll endure a few bad days but will be fine in the long run and can
focus his efforts on his campaign."
But Steele responded that if Lott is the standard, then Reid's comments
fall into the same category for resignation.
"It's more than just an apology here. It's a reflection of an attitude.
Now, remember, this is the same leader who, just a few weeks ago, you
know, was talking about health care in the context of slavery. Clearly,
he is out of touch not only with where America and his district are but
where -- how African-Americans generally feel about these issues," he
Steele's response Sunday was much more fiery than his initial tepid
remarks to the news a day earlier. Some had suggested the reason for his
stilted reply was due to his own use of the racially charged term
"honest injun" during an interview last week.
Steele said he too never intended to make 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," he said.
Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., agreed that if Lott should have resigned, then
Reid should too.
"Harry Reid has said a lot of insensitive things for which he's had to
apologize," he said. "My tendency is that when these people apologize,
if you know what's in their heart, they shouldn't. But I'd like to see
the same standard applied to both."
Reid's aides cite vast differences between him and Lott. They say Reid
has backed civil rights legislation, has voted for pro-civil rights
court nominees, has promoted diversity in hiring in the Nevada casino
industry and has always had an open and productive relationship with the
civil rights community in his home state and nationally.
With Reid's poll numbers tanking in his home state, the majority leader
is persisting. With no challenges to his majority leader position, he
also will not drop out of his re-election race.
But rank and file Democrats have been put in a difficult position. They
don't want to sound like nothing happened, but are uncomfortable
criticizing Reid in public.
Fox News' Major Garrett, Trish Turner and Lee Ross contributed to this