WASHINGTON – Republicans on Sunday accused Democrats of a double standard by accepting Sen. Harry Reid’s apology for racial remarks about Barack Obama instead of demanding Reid’s ouster as majority leader.
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.”
Reid, D-Nev., apologized to Obama on Saturday, and the president issued a statement accepting the apology and saying the matter was closed.
GOP Chairman Michael Steele, in appearances on two Sunday news programs, compared Reid’s predicament with the circumstances that led Senate Republican leader Trent Lott to step down from that post in 2002. Lott had spoken favorably of the 1948 segregationist presidential campaign of Strom Thurmond, and in spite of apologies for those remarks at Thurmond’s 100th birthday, Lott was forced out as leader.
“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, R-Texas, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said in a statement that 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,” Cornyn said.
Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California and Jack Reed of Rhode Island joined other Democrats in saying Reid’s apology and Obama’s statement were enough. They also rejected comparisons to the Lott episode.
“I think that’s a totally different context. Harry Reid made a misstatement,” 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.”
Steele said Reid’s remarks reflect an “attitude” by the Nevada senator, and Steele cited the lawmaker’s comment last month about those who would want to go more slowly on overhauling health care: “You think you’ve heard these same excuses before? You’re right. In this country there were those who dug in their heels and said, ‘Slow down, it’s too early. Let’s wait. Things aren’t bad enough.’ – about slavery.”
To Steele, “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.”
Rep. Barbara Lee, chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, disagreed. In a statement the California Democrat said, “Senator Reid’s record provides a stark contrast to actions of Republicans to block legislation that would benefit poor and minority communities – most recently reflected in Republican opposition to the health bill now under consideration.”