White House apol­o­gizes to fired agri­cul­ture of­fi­cial

Austin American-Statesman - - WORLD & NATION - By Mary Clare Jalonick and Ben Evans

WASHINGTON—TheWhite House did a sud­den about-face Wed­nes­day and begged for for­give­ness from the Agri­cul­ture Depart­ment em­ployee whose ouster ig­nited an em­bar­rass­ing po­lit­i­cal firestorm over race. She was of­fered a “unique op­por­tu­nity” for a new job and said she was think­ing it over.

With light­ning speed, the con­tro­versy moved from Mon­day’s forced res­ig­na­tion of a mi­nor U.S. Ag of­fi­cial in Ge­or­gia to Tues­day’s ur­gent dis­cus­sions at the White House amid a ris­ing pub­lic out­cry and then to Wed­nes­day’s re­peated apolo­gies and pleas for Shirley Sher­rod to come back.

Sher­rod said she re­signed un­der White House pres­sure af­ter the air­ing of a video of racial re­marks she made at a says she is con­sid­er­ing new job of­fer. Agri­cul­ture Sec­re­tary Tom Vil­sack says he acted in haste in fir­ing Shirley Sher­rod, a U.S. Agri­cul­ture Depart­ment of­fi­cial. gath­er­ing of the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion for the Ad­vance­ment of Col­ored Peo­ple about events that tran­spired more than two decades ago. But Agri­cul­ture Sec­re­tary Tom Vil­sack said re­peat­edly on Wed­nes­day that the de­ci­sion had been his alone.

“I asked for Shirley’s for­give­ness, and she was gra­cious enough to ex­tend it to me,” he said af­ter reach­ing her by tele­phone.

Sher­rod, in a phone in­ter­view with The As­so­ci­ated Press, said, “They did make an of­fer. I just told him I need to think about it.”

The con­tro­versy threat­ened to grow into more than a three-day dis­trac­tion for the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, with im­por­tant midterm con­gres­sional elec­tions near­ing and par­ti­san feel­ings al­ready run­ning high. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama said noth­ing pub­licly about the de­vel­op­ments while ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials tried to si­mul­ta­ne­ously show his con­cern and to dis­tance him from the orig­i­nal oust­ing.

It all be­gan with the air­ing of a video on a con­ser­va­tive web­site of Sher­rod’s re­marks about not do­ing all she could to help a white farmer. Af­ter she was told to re­sign — with the NAACP declar­ing its ap­proval — the sit­u­a­tion grew more com­pli­cated when the NAACP re­leased the rest of the edited video and Sher­rod in­sisted her re­marks were about rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, not the stok­ing of racism.

By Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon, White House Press Sec­re­tary Robert Gibbs was apol­o­giz­ing to Sher­rod “for the en­tire ad­min­is­tra­tion” and say­ing that of­fi­cials did not know all the facts when she was fired and should have in­ves­ti­gated more. He said he didn’t know whether the pres­i­dent would talk to Sher­rod him­self.

Obama had been briefed, Gibbs said, and “he talked about the fact that a dis­ser­vice had been done, an in­jus­tice had hap­pened and, be­cause the facts had changed, a re­view of the de­ci­sion based on those facts should be taken.”

Said Vil­sack, who also met with the Con­gres­sional Black Cau­cus, “I could have done and should have done a bet­ter job. … Shirley and I talked about a unique op­por­tu­nity at USDA. … I hope she con­sid­ers stay­ing with the depart­ment.”

J. Scott Applewhite

Shirley Sher­rod

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