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GOP chief: Harry Reid should step down over ‘no Negro dialect’ remark

Updated Sunday, Jan. 10, 2010 | 7:47 p.m.

Fox News Sunday

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid gestures while speaking on health care reform during a news conference, Monday, Oct. 26, 2009, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

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The Republican Party chairman says Sen. Harry Reid should step down as the Senate Democratic leader over racial remarks Reid made about Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign.

GOP Chairman Michael Steele says if a Republican had made such remarks, Democrats would be calling for that Republican's head.

In a private conversation reported in a new book, Reid described Obama as a "light-skinned" African-American "with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one."

The president accepted Reid's apology "without question," saying he knows Reid and "what's in his heart." Obama said the incident is "closed."

Democratic Party chairman Tim Kaine says the remarks should not affect Reid's leadership position.

Steele and Kaine spoke on "Fox News Sunday."

A Reid spokesman said Sunday the majority leader has no plans to step down from his leadership position or resign his Senate seat.

"Sen. Reid will stay in his position as majority leader and will run for reelection," his office said.

"As the leader in the fight to pass the Voting Rights Act and legislation banning hate crimes, Sen. Reid has a long record of addressing issues that are important to the African-American community," Reid's office said. "His Republican critics who are looking to politicize the issue can't say the same. Sen. Reid will continue working today, tomorrow, and the days ahead, to move our nation forward with policies that create jobs, make health care affordable and help struggling families in Nevada and across the country."

Reid challenger Sue Lowden, the former Nevada Republican Party chairwoman, criticized Reid.

"It's not about this comment it's about the next comment and the comment after that," Lowden told Fox News. "He's been (in Washington) three decades and I believe he's just lost touch with what's going on here in Nevada. ... The power has gone to his head."

Steele is scheduled to be in Las Vegas on Monday for a Nevada State Republican Party fundraiser at the M Resort.

He has had his own troubles with impolitic expressions. Steele came under fire recently for a racially insensitive expression about Native Americans.

Norman Ornstein, a congressional scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said that comparing Reid's comment to the racially insensitive one that led to the resignation of then-leader Sen. Trent Lott, the Republican from Mississippi, is off base.

Lott said in 2002 that the country would not have the problems it does now if the country had elected the segregationist Dixiecrat candidate for president, Strom Thurmond, the former senator from South Carolina, in 1948.

"With Lott you're talking about a guy who had a career going back that supported segregation," Ornstein said. "With Reid you're talking about a guy he helped, encouraged and got elected presient. The comparison is not a fair one."

On Sunday, Steele accused Democrats of a double standard by accepting Reid's apology for the remarks instead of demanding Reid's ouster as majority leader.

"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," said Steele, who is black. "It's either racist or it's not. And it's inappropriate, absolutely."

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said in a statement that Reid should step down, calling his comments "embarrassing and racially insensitive."

"It's difficult to see this situation as anything other than a clear double standard on the part of Senate Democrats and others," Cornyn said.

Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California and Jack Reed of Rhode Island joined other Democrats in saying Reid's apology and Obama's statement were enough.

Steele also said he's had no thoughts of resigning despite criticism of his first-year performance and controversy about his recent book that takes shots at the GOP.

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