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McConnell declines to criticize Reid over 'light-skinned' comments

By Paul Kane
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) declined to criticize Majority Leader Harry Reid Tuesday over his racially tinged comments about President Obama's 2008 candidacy, signaling that Republicans will not mount a serious push to remove the Nevadan as the top Democrat.

"That's an issue for the Democratic conference," McConnell told reporters, deflecting six different questions related to Reid's comments. "I think it's an issue for the Democratic conference."

McConnell was joined Tuesday by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Obama's opponent in 2008, in rejecting calls from senior Republicans who had demanded that Reid step down as majority leader. "That's up to Senator Reid and the voters of the state of Nevada," McCain said on NBC's "Today Show," a suggestion that Reid's fate would be decided in his uphill re-election battle in November.

McCain highlighted what he thought was a "stunning double standard" in the reaction to Reid compared to the treatment Trent Lott received in December 2002. The Mississippi Republican was poised to become Senate majority leader, but was forced aside after racially controversial remarks at the 100th birthday party of then-Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.). But McCain said Reid should not meet such a fate.

In a discussion with authors of the book "Game Change," which recounts the 2008 presidential campaign, Reid said he believed Obama would appeal to white voters because he was "light skinned" and did not speak with a "Negro dialect". Reid apologized for the comments when excerpts of the book were revealed Saturday and called President Obama, who has issued statements supportive of the majority leader.

One Democrat, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.), who has had a strained relationship with the leadership for years, questioned whether Reid should continue as leader. All other Senate Democrats have been supportive of Reid, whose tenure as leader has seen the Democratic caucus grow from 45 to 60 members.

Unlike the House -- where the speaker is elected by the entire chamber -- party leaders in the Senate are determined respectively by secret votes of the Democratic and Republican caucuses. Some GOP leaders, including Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele and National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas), have called on Reid to step down and ramped up pressure on Democrats running this year to rebuke the leader.

McConnell's comments were decidedly neutral. At one point he wished a reporter "good luck" when trying to phrase a Reid question in such a way that it would elicit a response. The minority leader has a routine down pat in deflecting questions about senators involved in scandals and is known for his guarded speech.

The decision to not criticize Reid mirrored the first step taken by then-Sen. Thomas A. Daschle (S.D.), who was the Democratic leader in 2002 when Lott made a joke that praised Thurmond's segregationist 1948 presidential campaign. Like McConnell and Reid, Daschle and Lott had a steady personal and professional relationship. Daschle supported Lott's elevation to majority leader despite the Thurmond comments.

In the ensuing days, as pressure against Lott mounted from liberal bloggers and interest groups, Daschle recanted his support for Lott and called for his resignation. Daschle was considering a presidential bid at the time.

By Web Politics Editor  |  January 12, 2010; 12:39 PM ET
Categories:  44 The Obama Presidency  
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Let's revisit former Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott's racist remark that garnered so much attention:

"I want to say this about my state. When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years either."

Saying that you would prefer that the United States be racially segregated, which what Lott did, is much worse than Sen. Reid's dated language.

Posted by: query0 | January 13, 2010 8:49 PM | Report abuse

I'm wondering when America is going to wake up. Who cares what color the President is. I will say Colon Powell would have been a better choice. I will also say Reid does need to LOOSE his office in a very big way. I hope the voters can open their eyes and ears and will do America a favor and put Reid in the bread lines.

Posted by: rcdavisgtx | January 13, 2010 5:31 PM | Report abuse

The only story is the double standard.. attributed to media, Dems and insiders.. no one wants to cover this end of it.

Posted by: newbeeboy | January 13, 2010 8:28 AM | Report abuse

The silliest thing of all in this entire debacle is watching the Republicans shed their crocodile tears over Harry Reid's "racial insensitivity". They're comparing it to the Democrat's reaction to Trent Lott's unfortunate comments back in 2002 at Strom Thurmond's one-hundredth birthday party. Lott, referring to old Strom's run for the White House in 1948 as a "Dixiecrat" candidate, said that America would today be a better place had the country elected him over Harry S Truman. Trent seemed to forget that the only position Thurmon ran on in '48 was as a staunch segregationist. Lott was forced to step down as Majority Leader - not because of his moronic statement - but because he had already lost favor with the Bush White House.

For the Republicans to now claim a newly-found racial sensitivity is quite amusing to say the least. If that is the case, why the hell did they choose the dumbest black guy they could possibly find to chair the RNC? Racial sensitivity? Please.

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY

Posted by: tomdeganfrontiernetnet | January 13, 2010 4:40 AM | Report abuse

Reid is a racist--honest Injun.

Posted by: NYCchris | January 12, 2010 6:33 PM | Report abuse

If McConnell declined to comment, then why did he have a smile on his face?

Granted, the smile was invisible to most eyes, but if you have never smiled, the slightest smirk cannot go unnoticed. I think McConnell was bursting with joy. In the inside.

On the outside one has to take a high road.

Posted by: kishorgala | January 12, 2010 6:27 PM | Report abuse

Wow! H.R. and B.O. should commission pahrumpete to write their obits. Glowing! I am an admitted registered D so I feel I am eminently qualified to offer an assessment of what Harry said.First, like it or not Reid's statement is factual accurate. If you don't recognize that Obama is a light skin black you have not been looking.If you are not aware that some time he sounds like a Harvard professor and sometime like one of the "brothers" you have not been listening.However,saying something accurate is not always the same as saying something intelligent. Case in point.Reid's statement was correct,but stupid.However,history is replete with examples of democrats protecting their own.Good example,Clinton's impeachment.One (1) lone democrat,a Rep from Pa. broke ranks. The center held. However in the sad case of Trent Lott(who I never really cared for)the republicans fractured because so many wanted to be "fair and reasonable".Never a democratic problem.Still today you hear the partisans pillory Lott. What was he crime? Putting aside past transgression that were 60-70 years gone by? Attempting to honor a man who had devoted his life to public service on his one-hundredth birthday? No,no. My party never forgives,never forgets,and never misses an opportunity to take the cheap shot. I remain loyal to the party only because their goals are lofty as they aspire to protect the common man.. Their morals their ideals and their ethics have always left much to be desired.However it is becoming harder as I become more disillusioned by their blind fealty to party."Loyalty above all things but honor".

Posted by: georgewhetstine | January 12, 2010 5:43 PM | Report abuse

Have some Republicans sunk so low that they
accuse Sen. Reid of being a racist? Really!
If I had any say in this and other matters
I would put a muzzle on "tiny tent" Steele
who sounds like he is against all races
if they don't march to his "orders" and sing in unison. What a piece of work!

Posted by: fed-upscottsdaleaz | January 12, 2010 5:11 PM | Report abuse

This was a stupid remark but not racist. I wish that some would stop making a mountain out of a molehill. When JFK was running for President there were politicans and others who said he would not win because he was Catholic. They believed it but Was that a prejudicial remark or could it be fact? Historically, Al Smith, a Catholic lost because of his religion. My grandfather told me that the same thing was said about Smith. Depending how it was said and who said it and in what context makes it racial OR NOT!
If, you are discerning enouth you know when something fits the context or doesn't.
Taken in context this was not racial. NOW, Lott's remarks about Strom's presidential run and how we would be better off living in a segragated world (taken in context) was racial.

Posted by: mcdonalsherry | January 12, 2010 5:05 PM | Report abuse

OH,BS that RINO Loser Sen Mitch McConnell is a big of a corrupt total incompetent
pathetic excuse for a Republican US Senator
and as Completely Worthless As Democrat
Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid,House
Speaker Nancy Pelosi,Democratic House Leader Steny Hoyer and the Empty Suit From
Kenya Democrat in the Oval Office Der Leader and Adolf Hitler Wannabe Comrade
Barack Hussein Obama! The Failed GOP Leadership of Mitch McConnell is as big a
real reason the GOP is the Minority Party
in Congress today! McConnell Resign Loser!

Posted by: loneeagle1938 | January 12, 2010 4:52 PM | Report abuse

Thank you McConnell.Everyone should keep your mouths shut with this racial stuff,and start doing your jobs. Millions of white people voted for Obama, so stop with the racial stuff.
If you all would start exposing the real harm Reid is doing with this HEALTH CARE SCAM,this group are all doing behind the legal citizen's of America's back you would be doing yourselves and America a big favor. This political correct crap is killing America. The news media knows this yet they continue to waste time reporting nonsense that is not helping America get back on its feet.
Start reporting the corruption that is happening behind our backs and allow this little stuff go to the gossip magazines.

Posted by: peggydlhk | January 12, 2010 4:34 PM | Report abuse

Doesn't it just break your journalistic little heart that you can't provoke a fight! If politicians would just learn to keep their mouths shut about these cat fight personal issues, reporters would have to do some real work and write about policy issues that are important to real people.

Posted by: cdierd1944 | January 12, 2010 3:49 PM | Report abuse

you guys sound like a bunch of children on a playground. I would expect it from them but not members of congress. Why so sensitive? I firmly believe Democrats (and Republicans) don't want this race issue to go provides to much fodder for cable shows.this is all these bafoons are going to talk about for the next 3 months

Posted by: fedupwidit | January 12, 2010 3:47 PM | Report abuse

There is naive inability for politically illiterate journalists and writers to comprehend experienced politicians' discussions of facts relative to elections and electability.
Thanks to that common sense failing, we have a firestorm of incoherent stupidity regarding Sen. Reid's factual analysis of young Sen. Obama's electability.
Sen. Reid was evaluating Sen. Obama's surface attributes and positive strengths.
"Modern" reporters inability to maintain a confidence without leaping into the Woodward & Bernstein mode prevents them from being privy to political planning and organization.
Experienced political party leaders "take inventory" of candidates when considering candidacies. Many members of the "working press" and "literary intelligentsia" can be grateful they are not subjected to the same brutally honest evaluation.
Consider some of the descriptions -- "Excessive weight, alcohol consumption, sexual activity and egocentric tendencies."
Or, "Relies heavily upon superficial physical attraction, charm and flattery."
Having devoted his young adult and adult years to furthering Civil Rights for every American, Sen. Harry Reid is incredibly well qualified to evaluate political potential for a charismatic, erudite, young, light skinned African-American man with outstanding verbal communication skills and an obviously high intellect.
In informal political discussions people use shorthand, with no intention of expressing racism, disrespect or negative criticism.
Unfortunately, too many younger writers and reporters lack knowledge and understanding of political realities.

Posted by: pahrumpete | January 12, 2010 3:30 PM | Report abuse

Of course McConnell is backing off. The GOPERS has read the full content in the book about Reids' involvement in pushing OBAMA to run for president. I chalk it up to another failed coup from the gopers.

Posted by: carolynlebeaufyahoocom | January 12, 2010 3:07 PM | Report abuse

The bigger story is all the corrupt, lying, backroom deals this racist traitor has been doing for the past year trying to push Odumbacare on us. Amazing how the Commicrats can say and do anything without any fear of any type of retribution, they lie, cheat and steal from us and of course the mainstream media backs them 100%. Somehow it will end up being Bush's fault.

Posted by: mock1ngb1rd | January 12, 2010 2:46 PM | Report abuse

Kane is you're going to write a story get the facts straight. Pressure mounted from the White House and conservatives as well as liberal. The analogy is not close. Lott praised a segregationist and his actions and voting record showed that he agreed with the sentiment that the country would have been better off had Thurmond been elected. Reid's action allowed him to speak the truth.

Posted by: rlj1 | January 12, 2010 12:57 PM | Report abuse

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