U.S. Sen. Harry Reid apologized Friday for making two Asian jokes while speaking before the Asian Chamber of Commerce in Las Vegas, saying his remarks were “in extremely poor taste.”
The Nevada Democrat didn’t deliver a speech but took questions from the chamber audience. At the end of Thursday’s event, he praised the Asian community, saying the population “is so productive.” Then he cracked wise.
“I don’t think you’re smarter than anybody else, but you’ve convinced a lot of us you are,” Reid said.
Then when he was introduced to Dr. Terry Wong, the president of the Asian Chamber of Commerce, Reid leaned back over his microphone and quipped, “One problem that I’ve had today is keeping my Wongs straight.”
Both jokes drew laughter from the audience of about 100 people.
But after America Rising, a Republican opposition research group, distributed a video of Reid’s remarks to national reporters and posted it on YouTube, the Senate majority leader came in for some criticism and apologized.
“My comments were in extremely poor taste and I apologize,” Reid said. “Sometimes I say the wrong thing.”
Wong said Friday he wasn’t offended by Reid’s jokes and nobody approached him to say they were upset either.
“I was there front and center when he made the Wong joke, but it didn’t offend me,” he said in an interview. “Not one person came up to me and complained. They weren’t malicious jokes.”
He said he’s heard a version of the too-many-Wongs joke “all of my life.”
As for the stereotype that Asians are brighter than other people, Wong said he understood the point Reid was making.
“Of course we’re not smarter,” Wong said. “But we work hard and put a lot of effort into what we’re doing. We work hard, we study hard. We’re the first ones in the library and the last ones out. I think it’s a compliment to us.”
Wong said he has known Reid about 20 years and “he’s always been supportive of the Asian community.”
Over the years, Reid has gained a reputation for verbal gaffes, including once saying of Barack Obama that his chances of winning the presidency were good because he was “light-skinned” and had “no Negro dialect — unless he wanted to have one.” The remarks were reported in the book “Game Change,” and Reid apologized in 2010 after it came out.
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