President Obama early this afternoon spoke to Shirley Sherrod on the phone, expressing regret to the former Agriculture Department official whose forced resignation has caused the administration a great deal of embarrassment.
The president and Sherrod spoke from 12:35 pm ET until 12:42, and the president emphasized that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack “was sincere in his apology” Wednesday, an official White House statement said, as well as in his larger mission to end discrimination at the department.
The Agriculture Department has been facing several lawsuits from minority farmers alleging discrimination in how the farm loan program was applied. Vilsack yesterday suggested that he’d hoped Sherrod would return to the department to work on the resolution of these lawsuits and ending the department’s poor civil rights legacy.
Thursday morning, Agriculture Department officials emailed Sherrod the specific job offer.
Said the White House statement: “The President told Ms. Sherrod that this misfortune can present an opportunity for her to continue her hard work on behalf of those in need, and he hopes that she will do so.”
White House officials say that suggestion was more along the lines of ‘this situation may present an opportunity to continue helping people if you're interested," and not about Vilsack's specific job offer.
Officials said the president was in his private office when they spoke and Sherrod did not make any indication as to her intentions about the job offer.
He'd tried to reach her twice last night. He was unable to leave a message; her voice mailbox was full. This morning White House staff were trying to reach her, unsuccessfully. Eventually Sherrod got the message and called back, which is when she spoke with the president.
*This post has been updated. The original report suggested that the president had urged Sherrod to consider the new job being offered, but White House officials say the discussion was more general than that.