WASHINGTON — Republicans moved Sunday to draw attention to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's racially tinged remarks about Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential race, with leading officials calling for him to step down and Democrats standing behind him.
The Republican National Committee's African-American chairman, Michael Steele, said that Reid, D-Nev., should vacate his office after acknowledging that he had described Obama as "light-skinned" and possessing no "Negro dialect" in a private conversation with two reporters, who then recounted it in their book to be released Tuesday.
"There is this standard where Democrats feel that they can say these things and they can apologize when it comes from the mouths of their own," Steele said in an interview with Fox News Sunday. "But if it comes from anyone else, it is racism."
Steele compared Reid's comments about Obama to remarks made by then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott in 2002 in which the Mississippi Republican, at a birthday party for South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond, said that "all these problems" might not have occurred if Thurmond had been elected president when he ran as a segregationist in 1948.
Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl, the second highest-ranking Republican in the Senate, drew a similar comparison on Fox News Sunday.
"If (Lott) should resign, then Harry Reid should," Kyl said.
The Democratic Party chairman, Tim Kaine, said on Fox that the Nevada senator's remarks "clearly were in the context of praising" Obama and there is no need for Reid to resign.
Unlike Lott, Reid immediately apologized and received a statement of support from the president. Obama said that he accepted Reid's apology.