U.S. Sen. Harry Reid today said he was grateful for support he has received from President Barack Obama and other black leaders in the wake of calls for him to resign over race-related comments he made about then-candidate Obama's light skin and accent.
In his first public comments since the controversy erupted, the Nevada Democrat said he personally apologized to the president and other civil rights leaders and he now wanted the affair to end. He has refused to step down as Senate majority leader and said he'll still run for re-election.
"We have a lot of work to do," he said after announcing a new energy project that could bring several hundred jobs to Nevada. "I'll continue to do my very best" for the state and the nation.
Asked whether he should apologize to the American people, too, Reid demurred.
"I'm not going to dwell on this anymore," he said, adding, "I've made all the statements I'm going to make."
Reid’s comments came after a weekend of damage control following the revelation of race-related remarks he made privately in 2006 about Obama’s appeal as a presidential candidate.
Reid had said that the nation was ready for a black president, especially one who is "light-skinned" and has "no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one."
The comments were published in a new book, "Game Change," an account of the 2008 campaign cycle by journalists John Heilemann and Mark Halperin.
The 70-year-old senator, who behind the scenes had urged fellow Democrat Obama to run for the White House, called the president on Saturday to apologize for his "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 Saturday. In it, he also highlighted his support for Obama and efforts to integrate the Strip and promote diversity in the Senate.
Obama forgave Reid, saying, "I accepted Harry'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."
Black political leaders, especially those who have long supported the Democratic Party and who also got apologetic calls from Reid, also stood behind the senator, saying he has a pro-civil rights record.
But the Republican Party and Reid’s potential GOP opponents who are leading him in pre-election polls called on him to resign as Senate majority leader — something the Reid camp quickly ruled out.
Michael Steele, the Republican Party chairman who’s in Las Vegas today, was among those who hit the weekend talk shows in Washington, D.C., to call on Reid to step down as majority leader.
"There’s a big double standard here," Steele said on Sunday when he appeared on NBC’s "Meet the Press." "When Democrats get caught saying racist things, you known an apology is enough."
Steele noted that Trent Lott had to step down as Republican majority leader in 2002 after making racially tinged remarks.
Lott resigned his leadership post after statements he made to Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C. In that case, Lott said he would have supported the 1948 presidential candidacy of Thurmond, then a segregationist.
Lott also apologized for his "poor choice of words" but that didn’t quell the uproar. He remained in the Senate until 2007.
Contact reporter Laura Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2919.