Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Tuesday that Chinese President Hu Jintao was a "dictator."
But he quickly added that he should not have used the term.
The remarks were made during an interview with the local Las Vegas news show Face to Face with Jon Ralston.
"You talked about some other things that you think will stimulate the economy," host Jon Ralston noted. "You talked about that middle class tax cut. You crowed about that today. Of course you had to make a deal on that, and you had to get some things including a tax cut for the very rich. You still believe that was the best deal for this country?"
"Jon, I'm going to go back to Washington tomorrow and meet with the president of China," Reid began. "He is a dictator. He can do a lot of things. He, through the form of government they have."
"Maybe I shouldn't have said 'dictator,'" he quickly added. "They have a different type of government than we have, and that's an understatement."
Reid concluded: "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."
The Majority Leader's gaffe came just one day before President Barack Obama welcomed Hu to the White House.
"[H]ow Reid-like is it to call the Chinese president a dictator as he is arriving in this country for sensitive talks with President Barack Obama? An awkward state dinner?" Ralston wondered in his Wednesday column.
"With this visit we can lay the foundation for the next 30 years," Obama said during Hu's arrival ceremony Wednesday. "We have an enormous stake in each other's success. In an interconnected world, in a global economy, nations including our own will be more prosperous and more secure when we work together."
This video is from KSNV's Face to Face with Jon Ralston, broadcast Jan. 18, 2011.