Obama backs senator who used racist language against him

Last Updated 12 January 2010, 08:16 IST

Reid, who has been embroiled in a controversy for describing Obama in 2008 as "light skinned" and "with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one" in a new book, in turn acknowledged Monday that "I could have used a better choice of words".
The book "Game Change" that went on sale Monday, says "Reid was convinced, in fact, that Obama's race would help him more than hurt him in a bid for the Democratic nomination."
"He's apologized, recognizing that he didn't use appropriate language," Obama said Monday of Reid, a key supporter in his push for health insurance reforms, in an interview taped for the cable channel TV One.

But there was nothing mean-spirited in what he had to say and he's always been on the right side of the issues," he said. "For him to have used some inartful language in trying to praise me, and for people to try to make hay out of that makes absolutely no sense." Obama said.

In the interview, Obama also described Reid as "a friend of mine" who has "been a stalwart champion of voting rights, civil rights."
"I guarantee you the average person, white or black, right now is less concerned about what Harry Reid said in a quote in a book a couple of years ago than they are about how we are going to move the country forward, and that's where we need to direct our attention," he said.
The president's vote of confidence - in Monday's interview and in an official statement over the weekend - comes one week before Senate Democrats return to Capitol Hill to flesh out a final health care reform bill.

Obama told CNN Reid "is spending a lot of his political capital in the middle of an election year to provide health care to every American."
"That's going to have a great impact and African-Americans and Latinos around the country," Obama noted.
Meanwhile, Reid said Monday that he is "very proud" of having told Barack Obama early on that he believed he was a viable candidate for president and could win election.
"I can still remember the meeting that took place in my office with Sen.  Barack Obama, telling him that I think he can be elected president," Reid said emphasising his longstanding support for America's first African-American president.
Obama "was kind of surprised that the Democratic leader was calling this new senator over to suggest that he could be elected president," he added.
Republicans have pounced on the controversy with Party Chairman Michael Steele Sunday calling for Reid to step down. "Racism and racist conversations have no place today in America," the first African-American Republican chairman said.

(Published 12 January 2010, 08:16 IST)

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