WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Republican Party chief called on Senator Harry Reid on Sunday to step down as Senate majority leader over racial comments about President Barack Obama, while Democrats tried to put the issue behind them.
Reid, a key figure in pushing Obama’s agenda through Congress, apologized to the president on Saturday over remarks published in a new book calling Obama a “light-skinned” black man “with no Negro dialect unless he wanted to have one.”
Both Obama and Reid are Democrats.
Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said Reid should step aside as Senate majority leader, saying if a Republican made the same remarks Democrats would be “screaming for his head.”
“Oh yeah, there’s a big double standard here,” Steele, who is black, said on the NBC program “Meet the Press.”
“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,” Steele added on “Fox News Sunday.”
Steele said Reid used “anachronistic language,” adding, “It harkens back to the 1950s and 60s, and it confirms to me a mind-set that’s out of step with where America is today.”
Steele was asked about his use in a recent television appearance of the words “honest injun,” seen as disparaging toward American Indians. Asked if his own words were a racial slur, Steele said, “Well, if it is, I apologize for it. ... I wasn’t intending to say a racial slur at all.”
Reid’s comments, made in private conversations, were quoted in a newly published book about the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign, “Game Change,” by Time magazine reporter Mark Halperin and New York magazine writer John Heileman.
Reid on Saturday apologized for “using such a poor choice of words.” Obama issued a statement accepting the apology.
Reid, 70, has been a close partner of the White House on key Obama initiatives, and succeeded in helping to round up the 60 votes needed to win Senate passage on December 24 of a healthcare reform bill, Obama’s top legislative priority.
It is unclear whether this controversy will undermine Reid’s influence in the Senate. Reid is also facing a tough re-election battle in Nevada this November.
Democratic Party chairman Tim Kaine said “the comments were unfortunate and they were insensitive,” but he said there is no reason for Reid to step down as majority leader.
“I think the case is closed because President Obama has spoken directly with the leader (Reid) and accepted his apology. ... We’re moving on,” Kaine told “Meet the Press.”
“Harry Reid made a misstatement. 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,” Democratic Senator Jack Reed told “Fox News Sunday.”
Republicans compared Reid’s remarks to those made in 2002 by Republican Trent Lott, praising former segregationist presidential candidate and long-time senator Strom Thurmond. Lott stepped down as Senate majority leader over the comments.
“If he (Lott) should resign, then Harry Reid should,” Republican Senator Jon Kyl told “Fox News Sunday.”
Editing by Todd Eastham