GOP hits Reid on slavery comments

“Instead of joining us on the right side of history, all the Republicans can come up with is, ‘Slow down, stop everything, let’s start over,’ ” Reid said in a floor speech on Monday.

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Reid said Republicans were displaying the same mindset as those who defended slavery.

“If you think you’ve heard these same excuses before, you’re right,” Reid said.

He continued: “When this country belatedly recognized the wrongs of slavery, there were those who dug in their heels and said, ‘Slow down, it’s too early, things aren’t bad enough.’ ”

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele suggested Democrats should strip Reid of his leadership position if he does not apologize for the comments.

“To suggest that passing this horrible bill is anything akin to ridding our country of slavery is terribly offensive and calls into question Mr. Reid’s suitability to lead,” said Steele, who characterized the majority leader as having “wandered far out of bounds with his absurd and offensive comments.”

“If he is going to stand by these statements, the Democrats must immediately reconsider his fitness to lead them,” Steele said.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) said the comments were an indication that Reid was “cracking” under the pressure of enacting healthcare reform.

“Folks tend to crack under pressure,” Chambliss said at a press conference with Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas). “It is an indication of desperation.”

In a statement, Reid spokesman Jim Manley said it was hard to believe that Republicans could make the charge with a straight face.

“Today’s feigned outrage is nothing but a ploy to distract from the fact they have no plan to lower the cost of healthcare, stop insurance-company abuses or protect Medicare,” Manley said. “And for those who are counting, Republicans have now held one press conference on manufactured anger and have issued one manual on how to grind the Senate to a halt — but have held zero press conferences and issued zero plans on how to help Americans afford to live a healthy life.”

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) also called on Reid to apologize or clarify his comments.

“I would very much appreciate if the — Sen. Reid would come to the floor and if not apologize, certainly clarify his remarks, that he was not referring to those of us who we believe are ... carrying out and performing our constitutional duties,” McCain said on the Senate floor Monday.