The Rev. Al Sharpton, the Congressional Black Caucus and the NAACP all jumped to the defense of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid after his controversial remarks about President Obama, but the niece of Martin Luther King Jr. is calling Reid's comments "sadly outrageous."
"If Michael Steele or any other conservative had said anything like it, the remarks would be labeled racist and plastered over every available news outlet," Alveda King said in a statement released Tuesday.
"What would my uncle and my father think, to hear such things from one of the most powerful leaders in the country? Their 'beloved community' is sorely threatened when racism rears its ugly head once again."
Sen. Russ Fiengold did his own soul searching after Reid was quoted in a book saying candidate Barack Obama in 2008 could benefit from being light-skinned and not having a "Negro dialect" unless he wants one. Feingold told a local television station late Monday that he's still mulling whether Reid should stay or step down as majority leader.
"I'm thinking about that and we're going to be getting together as a caucus next week, and that topic will come up. I have not decided whether these comments merit that or not," Feingold told ABC affiliate WISN. "They're very unfortunate. They should have never been said. So I need to think about it."
But on Tuesday, he closed rank around the embattled leader. An aide to Feingold told Fox News the Wisconsin senator communicated through a senior member of his staff to Reid that he backs him as majority leader and is no longer unsure if Reid should remain in that position.
Some progressives bloggers, however, fearing Reid is a liability, said he should step down now so Democrats have a better chance of keeping the Nevada Senate seat in November. And while Reid reportedly called RainbowPush head Jesse Jackson to apologize after the gaffe was reported, Jackson has been uncharacteristically quiet on the racially tinged matter.
Reid said Monday that he "could have used a better choice of words," and he signaled that he's moving on.
"We have a lot to do," Reid said. "I feel good about people reaching out to me. I've apologized to the president. ... I'm not going to dwell on this anymore."
Other leading Democrats, including President Obama, have accepted Reid's apology, while conceding that he used inappropriate language. But critics say it's not Obama who needs an apology but Americans who Reid presumed would hesitate to vote for a black man.
Steele, the first black chairman of the Republican National Committee, is among those Republicans calling for Reid to step down. He and others say Democrats are operating by a double-standard, since they were insistent that former Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott step down in 2002 after he praised the late Sen. Strom Thurmond, a former segregationist, at his 100th birthday party.
Feingold said Lott's remarks were more insensitive than Reid's.
Obama, in an interview with TV One, called Reid a "stalwart champion ... of civil rights" and a "good man" who meant no offense.
"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. "He apologized, recognizing that he didn't use appropriate language, but there was nothing mean-spirited in what he had to say and he's always been on the right side of the issues."
Nevada's other senator, John Ensign, a Republican, said Monday that lawmakers should accept Reid's apology. Republican Sens. John McCain and Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, said a determination on Reid's fate should be made among Nevada voters and the Democratic caucus, respectively.