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Friday, June 27, 2008

Obama: ‘I bit my tongue’ against Clinton

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) said he bit his tongue “many times” during the fierce primary battle with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.).

Two sources said that Obama’s comments came after Rep. Diane Watson (D-Calif.), a Clinton backer, told the Illinois senator that the Democratic Party needs time to heal.

“I bit my tongue many times. Many times. I bit my tongue many times during this campaign,” Obama told his colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) last week during a private meeting. He repeated the “I bit my tongue” phrase three times during the meeting, the sources said.

The comments suggest that Obama believes that he did not unfairly attack Clinton but held back after feeling the sting of political barbs.

Some CBC members have said the Clinton campaign used racial politics in its attempt to win the Democratic nomination. House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), who did not endorse Obama until he had clinched the nomination, was so upset with comments made by former President Bill Clinton that he publicly called on him to “chill.”

The caucus convened its members with Obama last week to heal some of the deep wounds from the campaign. It was a chance for Clinton CBC backers to unify behind their Democratic standard-bearer.

Sources say Obama was direct throughout the meeting but expressed some frustration with claims that it is going to take some time for the party to mend its wounds. The risks of not uniting right away, Obama indicated, are too great.

In his response to Watson, Obama said, “Look, Diane. John McCain, if he’s elected, is going to pick a Supreme Court that will roll back every gain women have made in the last 50 years.”

“He can be pretty direct,” a CBC source said last week. “It was a pretty lively meeting.”

As The Hill first reported earlier this week, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) criticized the Obama campaign during the CBC meeting for recently asking two women wearing head scarves to move so they wouldn’t be in the backdrop of Obama’s speech in Detroit.

Obama noted that volunteers, not campaign staff, had asked the women to move, but admitted it was a mistake. Obama has called the women to apologize.

Before the meeting started, CBC Chairwoman Carolyn Kilpatrick (D-Mich.) ordered all staff to leave the room.

Many members of the caucus expressed their delight in Obama’s candidacy and praised the young lawmaker. But others have been disappointed that details of the private meeting have become public.

“I don’t want to talk about that,” Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) said on Wednesday. “I am disappointed about the leaks that came out of that meeting.”

So too, was Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio). “I am not going to talk about that,” she said.

Other black lawmakers approached by The Hill also refused to go on record about what was said at the meeting.

The Obama campaign declined to comment.

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