WASHINGTON, Jan. 11, 2010 -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's 2008 description of then-presidential candidate Barack Obama as a "light-skinned" African American "with no Negro dialect unless he wanted to have one" has put the key Obama ally from Nevada on the defensive amid Republican calls for him to resign.
Reid made the controversial comment about Obama to authors of the forthcoming book "Game Change" during the 2008 presidential campaign, suggesting the qualities would help Obama's chances of being elected.
At a news conference in Nevada this afternoon, Reid said he has spoken with the president and several high-profile, African American leaders, including NAACP chairman Julian Bond and Attorney General Eric Holder, who have accepted his apology and agreed it's time to move on.
"We have a lot of work to do," Reid said. "I'll continue to do my very best for the people of Nevada and this country. I'm not going to dwell on this anymore. It's in the book, and I've made all the statements I'm going to."
Reid released a written apology Saturday that said, "I deeply regret using such a poor choice of words. I sincerely apologize for offending any and all Americans, especially African Americans, for my improper comments."
But several high-profile Republicans say an apology is not enough, pointing to a "standard" Democrats set in 2002 when they urged then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott to resign following comments he made praising Mississippi's support for Strom Thurmond's 1948 segregationist run for the presidency.
"Trent Lott resigned. Harry Reid should resign," Republican Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said on MSNBC.
"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 earlier in a statement, referring to Reid's intention to stay in his post and fellow Democrats' public expressions of forgiveness.
Obama, who has accepted Reid's apology for the comment, needs a strong Harry Reid to help him pass health care legislation, a jobs bill, energy legislation and funding for the war in Afghanistan, among other legislative priorities.
"I 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," Obama said Sunday. "As far as I'm concerned, the book is closed."
Other Democrats have signaled that the comment, which Reid made to authors Mark Halperin and John Heilemann in the midst of the 2008 campaign, is no big deal.
"It definitely was in the context of recognizing in Sen. Obama a great candidate and future president," Virginia governor and Democratic National Committee chairman Tim Kaine said Sunday.
The Rev. Al Sharpton acknowledged that Reid made a poor choice of words but said his apology and record on civil rights issues are sufficient to close the book on the incident. "These comments should not distract America from its continued focus on securing health care or creating jobs for its people," he said in a statement.
"Nor should they detract from the unquestionable leadership Sen. Reid has played on these issues or in the area of civil rights."
Some conservatives have also come to Reid's defense, including columnist George Will, who said on "This Week" Sunday that he didn't find a "scintilla of racism in what Harry Reid said."
But other Republicans said mild treatment of Reid's comment on race amounts to a Democratic double standard.
Debate Over Reid's Future Continues After Comments
"One of the things that makes the American people frustrated is when they see time and time again liberals excusing racism from other liberals," conservative commentator Liz Cheney said on "This Week."
Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele called for Reid to resign, also making the Lott comparison.
"If the standard is the one that we saw with Trent Lott as speaker -- as a leader at the time -- then I think this absolutely falls in that category," Steele said Sunday.
Democrats argue, however, that an endorsement of segregation is entirely different from the intent of Reid's remark.
"I think that's a totally different context," Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., said.
In 2002, as a state senator, Obama said, "The Republican Party itself has to drive out Trent Lott. … They have to stand up and say this is not the person we want representing our party."
For their part, the authors of "Game Change" are trying to stay out of the fray, insisting revelations in the book should come as no surprise.
"We did over 300 interviews for the book, more than 200 people," John Heilemann said on "Good Morning America" today. "All were done on deep background. We did no off the record interviews. We have burned no sources in the book."
Mark Halperin said the book stands as it is, saying of the controversy, "What we've done is to try and write a book of history."
The book is expected to be released later this week.