On Jan. 18, the New York Times ran a story about Chinese President Hu Jintao’s impending visit: “White House Looks to Avoid Gaffes During Chinese Visit.”
That same day, U.S. Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada taped an interview with political reporter Jon Ralston in Las Vegas.
“I am going to go back to Washington tomorrow and meet with the President of China,” Reid said. “He is a dictator. He can do a lot of things through the form of government they have. Maybe I shouldn’t have said dictator, but they have a different type of government than we have and that is an understatement. So we have to work in the system we have—the best system ever devised to rule the affairs of men and women. And one of the ways we get things done, in fact the most important way we get things done, is through compromise. It’s not a bad word, and that’s how we get things done and it’s going to become even more apparent now where we have 53 Democrats and 47 Republicans. To get something done we’re going to have to work together.”
The term dictator was immediately seized on by D.C. journalists like ABC’s Matthew Jaffe and the New York Times’ Carl Hulse as possibly disrupting the amity of the summit. Hulse speculated that Reid’s reckless truth-telling “could lead to some uncomfortable moments” when Reid and Hu met on Jan. 20, but in fact that meeting came off smoothly. Photos of the two leaders smiling and shaking hands were released.
Reid, Speaker John Boehner, and Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell all skipped a state dinner with Hu at the White House.