In a televised interview on Tuesday night, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called Chinese President Hu Jintao a "dictator" - despite the fact that Reid is planning to join President Obama in receiving the Chinese leader at a state dinner tonight.
When questioned on congressional Democrats' end-of-year compromise with Republicans that gave tax cuts to America's highest earners, Reid spoke about the need for Democrats to work within the system as it exists - a system, he said, that is very different than that of China.
"I am going to go back to Washington tomorrow and meet with the President of China," Reid told the Las Vegas Sun's Jon Ralston on the program "Face to Face." "He is a dictator. He can do a lot of things through the form of government they have."
Reid backtracked on his comments almost immediately: "Maybe I shouldn't have said dictator, but they have a different type of government then we have, and that is an understatement," he said. "So we have to work in the system we have - the best system ever devised to rule the affairs of man and woman. And one of the way we get things done - and in fact important way we get things done - is through compromise."
Compromise, he added, is "not a bad word."
Reid also used the word "dictator" when discussing the importance of renewable energy in the Nevada economy, arguing that "we cannot continue to be beholden to these foreign dictators who are giving us 70 percent of our oil."
Mr. Obama will host Chinese President Hu at a state dinner this evening designed to help the two find common ground. Reid is expected to attend the event.