A Southern senator referred to President Barack Obama as "exotic" in a closed-door meeting last month, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said Wednesday.
During an interview with the Des Moines Register's editorial board, Harkin was asked about the persistent opposition to Obama's agenda, even in his second term. The Iowa Democrat responded by pointing to one senator's comments, whom he refused to identify, on constituents in the South being unable to relate to the "exotic" president.
The Des Moines Register posted a transcript of Harkin's response, in which he discusses the exchange during a July 15 all-member meeting on filibuster reform.
Des Moines Register columnist Rekha Basu: Why are so many people determined to see the president fail? Where does that come from, you think?
Harkin: Well, when he was first elected, you know what Sen. [Mitch] McConnell said on the Senate floor in January of 2009: We want to make sure that he is a one-term president.
Well, OK, fine, I can understand that, but then to carry out and do everything they can to keep anything from succeeding rather than working with us to try to modify things, sure, but they just kind of closed the door on anything.
It was interesting that we had this closed-door session, you know, you heard about the senators we went in this closed-door thing in the Old Senate Chambers, what, how many weeks ago was that, three or four weeks ago?
It was very interesting. No press there, and no staff and so senators just got to speak.
And, not naming any names, but one senator got up from a Southern state and said, ‘You’ve got to understand that to my people down here, Obama seems like -– he thought for a second and he said -– like he’s exotic.’
We kind of laughed at that –- what’s that mean? Exotic? That he’s just exotic, that he doesn’t share our values and that kind of thing. It was kind of a strange comment.
Des Moines Register editor Rick Green: Exotic in terms of values or in terms of race? How do you describe or define ‘exotic?’
Basu: Do they still think he’s a Muslim or wasn’t born in this country? Do they still spout those kinds of theories?
Harkin: Yeah, I guess so. I don’t know. He never explained it. Everybody just kind of laughed at the idea of exotic.
Harkin's revelation incidentally came a day after protesters outside an Obama speech in Phoenix sang, "Bye-Bye Black Sheep" and held racially charged signs, including one that read "Impeach the Half-White Muslim!"
In the same interview, Harkin characterized the current partisanship as a "rough period," though he noted the last time things were this polarized was during the Civil War and then the Red Scare of the 1950s.