Harry Reid is no Trent Lott, White House says

The White House stepped up its defense of Senate majority leader Harry Reid. But Republicans claim his racially insensitive comments resemble those made by Trent Lott in 2002, which led to his resignation as majority leader.

By , Staff writer

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    Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) responds to media questions about his comment about President Barack Obama, following a news conference at the Harry Allen Generating Plant near Apex, Nevada, northeast of Las Vegas, Monday.
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The White House stepped up its defense of Senate majority leader Harry Reid on Monday in the wake of a controversy surrounding racially tinged comments about then-presidential candidate Barack Obama.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs denied Republican claims that the comments, which a new book quotes Senator Reid as making, resemble those made by Republican majority leader Trent Lott in 2002. Those comments led to his resignation from his leadership position under pressure.

Reid called Mr. Obama on Saturday to apologize for comments describing him as a “light-skinned” African-American with “no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.” The comments were reported in a book by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin called “Game Change” that will be published Tuesday.

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Unfortunate comments forgiven

Obama issued a statement Saturday saying that Reid had called him and “apologized for an unfortunate comment reported today.” The president went on to say that he “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." He added, "As far as I am concerned, the book is closed."

But a number of top Republicans called on Reid to step down, citing the incident in 2002 when then-Senator Lott made remarks at a 100th birthday party for Sen. Strom Thurmond. Lott’s comments sounded supportive of Mr. Thurmond’s 1948 presidential campaign against Harry Truman. Thurmond ran on a segregationist platform, although he later became a civil rights supporter. Lott resigned as majority leader after getting tepid support from the Bush White House.

Double standard charged

“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,” Republican Party chairman Michael Steele said Sunday. “But if it comes from anyone else, it’s racism.” Steele, who is black, appeared Sunday on both NBC’s “Meet the Press” and “Fox News Sunday.”

Sen. John Cornyn, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, called for Reid’s resignation in a written statement. “It is difficult to see this situation as anything other than a clear double standard on the part of Senate Democrats and others,” Senator Cornyn said.

No analogy seen

At his daily press briefing on Monday, Mr. Gibbs argued that the two situations are markedly different. “I don’t understand exactly how one draws the analogy to a former majority leader expressing his support for the defeat of Harry Truman in 1948 so that Strom Thurmond would be president running on a states' rights ticket. I don’t see how that is analogous to what Senator Reid said.”

Warming to the topic, Gibbs added, “I understand what people have to say on TV or to get themselves on TV. I would suggest they spend about 20 seconds reading a little history and figuring out that to draw that analogy strains any intellectual enterprise or any real reality in all this.”

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