Wed, Jan 13, 2010 - Page 7 News List

Reid gaffe piles pressure on Democrats

‘INARTFUL’ Although Harry Reid’s remark couldn’t have been revealed at a worse time for his party, leading Democrats rallied behind the veteran rights campaigner


A racial gaffe by US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid put Democrats on the defensive on Monday, the latest woe for US President Barack Obama’s party at the start of a potentially difficult election year.

Republicans called for Reid’s resignation after a new book said he had described Obama, in a private conversation during the 2008 campaign, as a “light-skinned” African-American “with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.”

Leading Democrats rallied behind Reid, praising his record on civil rights.

Obama himself said on Monday that the senator was trying to praise him but simply used “inartful language.” Obama told the TV One network that the language was inappropriate but not mean-spirited.

The president had received a telephoned apology from Reid over the weekend. Obama, the first black US president, has tried to steer clear of the political thicket of race and politics.

Reid also made his first public comments on the controversy on Monday in his home state of Nevada, where he is running for re-election this fall.

“I’ve apologized to the president, I’ve apologized to everyone within the sound of my voice that I could have used a better choice of words,” Reid said.

Reid’s spokesman, Jim Manley, said the 70-year-old senator had no intention of stepping down as majority leader and was “absolutely running” for another six-year term.

However, recent polls show Reid — one of the Republicans’ main targets this year — trailing potential Republican rivals in Nevada.

Debate over Reid’s remarks remained one of the top stories on Monday on cable television news channels and in Internet blogs. The attention has been an unwelcome distraction for Obama and Democrats at a time that Reid plays a crucial role in winning approval of a healthcare overhaul, Obama’s top domestic priority.

It also comes as Democrats struggle to get their footing ahead of the November elections. The party in power commonly loses at least some seats in the congressional election that comes midway through a president’s four-year term. And two veteran Democratic senators announced last week that they would not seek re-election.

Reid’s remarks were reported in the book Game Change, by Time magazine’s Mark Halperin and New York magazine’s John Heilemann.

They report that Reid “was wowed by Obama’s oratorical gifts and believed that the country was ready to embrace a black presidential candidate, especially one such as Obama — a ‘light-skinned’ African American ‘with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one,’ as he later put it privately.”

The latest expression of forgiveness came from Attorney-General Eric Holder, who said in an Associated Press interview on Monday that Reid’s remark was “unfortunate, but I don’t think that there is a prejudiced bone in his body.”

Holder is the first African-­American to serve as the country’s top law-enforcement official.

However, Republicans say Reid should be held to the same standard as former Republican senator Trent Lott, whose racial remarks cost him the Senate leadership in 2002.

Lott had cheered the 1948 presidential campaign of Strom Thurmond — then a segregationist Democrat — saying the nation would have been better off if he had won. He spoke during a 100th birthday tribute to Thurmond, by then a longtime Republican senator.

“There is this standard where the Democrats feel that they can say these things and they can apologize when it comes from the mouths of their own,” Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele, who is black, said on Sunday. “But if it comes from anyone else, it’s racism.”

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