Former White House Chief of Staff John Sununu is trying to walk back charges he made Thursday night that retired General Colin Powell only endorsed President Barack Obama because of their shared race.
Sununu, the former New Hampshire governor and a co-chair of GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s campaign, said in an interview Thursday evening that Powell’s decision to endorse President Barack Obama’s re-election bid was primarily driven by race.
“Frankly, when you take a look at Colin Powell, you have to wonder if that’s an endorsement based on issues, or whether he’s got a slightly different reason for preferring President Obama,” he said on CNN’s “Piers Morgan Tonight.”
“What reason would that be?” a somewhat-perplexed sounding Morgan replied.
“Well, I think when you have somebody of your own race that you’re proud of being President of the United States, I applaud Colin for standing with him,” Sununu said.
A few hours after the CNN interview, Sununu issued a statement in the hopes of reversing himself.
“Colin Powell is a friend and I respect the endorsement decision he made and I do not doubt that it was based on anything but his support of the president’s policies,” he said. “Piers Morgan’s question was whether Colin Powell should leave the party, and I don’t think he should.”
Newark, N.J. mayor Cory Booker, a surrogate for President Obama, called the comments “disrespectful” on Friday.
This isn’t the first time Powell has been accused of an endorsement based on race. In 2008, Rush Limbaugh, among others, insinuated that Powell’s endorsement of Obama was primarily motivated by skin color.
Powell, who is African American like Obama, made no mention of the president’s race in announcing his endorsement on Thursday morning. Appearing on “CBS This Morning,” the former National Security Advisor to George H.W. Bush and Secretary of State to George W. Bush credited Obama with reversing the country’s abrupt economic downturn and expressed general approval of the president’s policies on issues ranging from national security to climate change to health care reform.
“I think, generally, we’ve come out of the [economic] dive and we’re starting to gain altitude,” Powell said. “It doesn’t mean all our problems are solved….But I see that we are starting to rise up.”
“I also saw the president get us out of one war, start to get us out of a second war, and did not get us into any new wars,” Powell added. “The actions that he has taken with respect to protecting us from terrorism have been very, very solid.”
Powell also suggested that the tax cuts Romney has touted could not be offset by reductions in spending.
In the CBS interview, Powell expressed his personal loyalty towards Obama.
“I signed on for a long patrol with President Obama and I don’t think this is the time to make such a sudden change,” the retired general said.
Powell also accused Romney of changing his foreign policy positions in recent months.
“This is quite a different set of foreign policy views than he had earlier in the campaign,” Powell said. “Sometimes, I don’t sense that he has thought through these issues as thoroughly as he should have.”
“I think there are some very, very strong neo-conservative views that are presented by the governor that I have some trouble with,” Powell said.
Sununu, a regular surrogate for Romney’s campaign, has made several provocative comments in recent months.
“I wish this president would learn how to be an American,” he infamously remarked during a Romney campaign-organized conference call in July. He later apologized.
In an interview following the first presidential debate earlier this month, Sununu called Obama “lazy and disengaged.”
Sununu served as governor of New Hampshire for about six years in the 1980s and was President George H.W. Bush’s first chief of staff.