Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) apologized Saturday for calling President Barack Obama light skinned and remarking that he has no Negro dialect during a private conversation in 2008.
In a statement released by his office, Reid apologized for making the remarks, which are detailed in a new book on the 2008 election by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann. Reid made the comments to the authors during an interview, sources said.
The Majority Leaders statement reads, 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 Obamas legislative agenda.
Moreover, throughout my career, from efforts to integrate the Las Vegas strip and the gaming industry to opposing radical judges and promoting diversity in the Senate, I have worked hard to advance issues important to the African American community.
Obama issued a statement Saturday afternoon accepting Reids apology.
Harry Reid called me today and apologized for an unfortunate comment reported today. I accepted Harrys apology without question because Ive known him for years, Ive seen the passionate leadership hes shown on issues of social justice and I know whats in his heart. As far as I am concerned, the book is closed, Obama said.
According to sources close to Reid, he was attempting to make the point that the country was ready for a black president and that Obama would win the election. The whole point was he enthusiastically supported Obama and believed the country was ready to elect a black president. He was right about that, one source said.
But Reids language included racially charged rhetoric. Throughout much of the nations history, light skinned has been used by whites to refer to black Americans who are not truly black but rather are more refined or educated than darker-skinned blacks.
And Reids comments about the lack of a Negro dialect likely will stir the ire of black leaders who have long bristled at characterizations of its leading figures as being articulate, thereby implying that the majority of black Americans are less educated.
During the 2008 campaign, Vice President Joseph Biden called Obama articulate and bright and clean during an interview.
The revelations could not have come at a worse time for Reid. He is facing the re-election fight of his career this year, and poll numbers have shown his popularity in Nevada has cratered. His efforts to push through a health care reform bill have been met with hostility from conservatives as well as his partys left wing.
Republicans wasted no time in pouncing.
Brian Walsh, communications director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, issued a statement Saturday saying Nevada deserves better and urging Reids fellow Democrats to condemn the remarks.
For those who hope to one day live in a color-blind nation it appears Harry Reid is more than a few steps behind them, the statement reads.
Unfortunately, this is just the latest in a long history of embarrassing and controversial remarks by the senior Senator from Nevada.
Reid could also face consequences in Washington. Former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) was forced to step down in December 2002 after he remarked that the country would be better off if the late Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) had been elected president. Thurmond was most famous for filibustering the Civil Right Act of 1964, and Lotts comments, which came during a birthday party for Thurmond, set off a national controversy.
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