WASHINGTON - The top Democrat in the Senate apologized yesterday for comments he made about Barack Obama’s race during the 2008 presidential bid and are quoted in a yet-to-be-released book about the campaign.
Senate majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada described in private then-Senator Barack Obama as “light skinned’’ and “with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.’’ Obama is the nation’s first African-American president.
“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,’’ Reid said in a statement released after the excerpts were first reported on The Atlantic website.
“I was a proud and enthusiastic supporter of Barack Obama during the campaign and have worked as hard as I can to advance President Obama’s legislative agenda.’’
Obama quickly accepted, saying “As far as I am concerned, the book is closed.’’
Obama said Reid has shown “passionate leadership’’ on issues of social justice.
Reid remained neutral during the bitter Democratic primary that became a marathon contest between Obama and then-Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, whom Obama tapped as the United States’ top diplomat after the election.
Reid’s comments are included in the book, obtained yesterday by the Associated Press and set to be published tomorrow. “Game Change’’ was written by Time magazine’s Mark Halperin and New York magazine’s John Heilemann.
The book also says Reid urged Obama to run, perceiving the first-term senator’s impatience.
“You’re not going to go anyplace here,’’ Reid told Obama of the Senate. “I know that you don’t like it, doing what you’re doing.’’
Reid, facing a tough 2010 reelection bid, needs the White House’s help if he wants to keep his seat. Obama’s administration has dispatched officials on dozens of trips to buoy his bid and Obama has raised money for his campaign.
Recognizing the threat, Reid’s apologies also played to his home state: “Moreover, throughout my career, from efforts to integrate the Las Vegas strip and the gaming industry to opposing radical judges and promoting diversity in the Senate, I have worked hard to advance issues.’’
Even before his ill-considered remarks were reported, a new survey released yesterday by the Las Vegas Review Journal showed him continuing to earn poor polling numbers. In the poll, by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, Reid trailed former state Republican Party chairwoman Sue Lowden by 10 percentage points, 50 percent to 40 percent, and also lagging behind two other opponents.
More than half of Nevadans had an unfavorable opinion of Reid. Just 33 percent of respondents held a favorable opinion.
Over time, cost-cutting measures could start to reduce the annual increases in health care spending, offering the possibility of substantial savings in the long run. At the same time, however, some of the Senate’s Medicare savings could be unrealistic and cause lawmakers to roll them back, according to Medicare’s top number crunchers.
The study found that health spending, which accounts for about one-sixth of the economy, would increase by less than 1 percent than it otherwise would over the coming decade even with so many more people receiving coverage.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the report shows the Senate bill would slow the rate of health-care costs, strengthen Medicare, and provide millions more people with insurance coverage.
President Obama used his weekly radio and Internet address yesterday to play up the brighter side of the overhaul he hopes to sign in time for his first State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress in a matter of weeks.
He said it would ban “the worst practices of the insurance industry’’ even as he acknowledged it would take several years - until 2014 in some instances - for some of the changes to be fully in place. That has disappointed consumers and their advocates.
“Now, it’ll take a few years to fully implement these reforms in a responsible way,’’ the president said. “But what every American should know is that once I sign health insurance reform into law, there are dozens of protections and benefits that will take effect this year.’’
Among them, Obama said:
■ People with illnesses or medical conditions will be able to buy affordable health insurance.
■ Children with such conditions will no longer be denied coverage.
■ Small-business owners who can’t afford to cover their employees will get tax credits to help them do so.
■ Insurance companies will be required to offer free preventive care to their customers and will be prohibited from dropping coverage when someone becomes ill.