Democrats on Sunday defended Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for his private remarks during the 2008 campaign describing then-Sen. Barack Obama as “light skinned” and “with no Negro dialect.”
“I think if you look at the reports as I have, it was all in the context of saying positive things about Senator Obama,” said Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine. “It definitely was in the context of recognizing in Senator Obama a great candidate and future president.”
Sen. Diane Feinstein of California said Mr. Reid should not resign, and defended his remark as just a “mistake.”
“Clearly, the leader misspoke. He has also apologized. He’s not only apologized to the president, I think he’s apologized to all of the black leadership that he could reach,” she said.
“So the president has accepted the apology, and it would seem to me that the matter should be closed.”
• Reid apologizes for Obama ‘Negro’ comment
In a private conversation reported in a new book, Reid described Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign as a “light-skinned” African-American “with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.”
Mr. Reid apologized to Mr. Obama on Saturday, and the president issued a statement accepting the apology and saying the matter was closed.
But Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele mocked the DNC chairman’s defense as he called on the Nevada Democrat to resign.
“If [Senate Republican Leader] Mitch McConnell had said those very words, then this chairman and this president would be calling for his head and they would be labeling every Republican in the country a racist for saying exactly what this chairman’s just said,” Mr. Steele said.
He also compared Mr. Reid’s remark with that led Senate Republican leader Trent Lott, who in 2002 said at the 100th birthday celebration of 1948 presidential candidate Sen. Strom Thurmond “if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years.”
Mr. Lott’s remark was considered an endorsement of Mr. Thurmond’s segregationist policies, and he was quickly drummed out of the Senate leadership post.
“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. But if it comes from anyone else, it’s racism,” said Steele, who is black. “It’s either racist or it’s not. And it’s inappropriate, absolutely.”
Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican and chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said in a statement that Mr. Reid should step down, calling his comments “embarrassing and racially insensitive.”
“It’s difficult to see this situation as anything other than a clear double standard on the part of Senate Democrats and others,” Mr. Cornyn said.
Jack Reed of Rhode Island joined other Democrats in saying Mr. Reid’s apology and Mr. Obama’s statement were enough, rejecting comparisons to the Lott episode.
“I think that’s a totally different context. Harry Reid made a misstatement,” Mr. Reed said. “He owned up to it. He apologized. I think he is mortified by the statement he’s made. And I don’t think he should step down.”
Mrs. Feinstein also said that “I saw no Democrats jumping out there and condemning Senator Lott.”
But several Democrats — including Mrs. Feinstein — did in fact target Mr. Lott after his remarks. “This statement casts a dark shadow over Sen. Lott’s ability to be a credible party leader,” she said in 2002, according to an Inland Valley Daily Bulletin news story.
“I can tell you if a Democratic leader said such a thing, they would not be allowed to keep their position,” Sen. Mary Landrieu, Louisiana Democrat, said of Mr. Lott in 2002.
Sen. John Kerry also called on Mr. Lott to resign, saying “I simply do not believe the country can today afford to have someone who has made these statements again and again be the leader of the United States Senate,” according to a Boston Globe article.