Steele: Not budging
Breaking a week-long silence, Republican National Chairman Michael Steele said Monday morning that he's staying put in his job, despite a fresh round of criticism over the way money is handled at party headquarters.
George Stephanopoulos put the question to Steele on "Good Morning America," after quoting a recent poll of party insiders, who overwhelmingly concluded that the former Maryland lieutenant governor is a liability to his party and needs to go.
"Are you going to go?," asked the ABC breakfast show host.
"No," replied Steele. "And I understand that, but, of course, they've been saying that since the day I got the job."
Steele said he has been putting "great controls in place" on finance at RNC headquarters and on the party's money-raising operation.
"Those numbers that they talk about, you know, I'm not staying in fancy hotels and the Four Seasons and flying around in corporate jets," he said.
It was the first time that Steele or one of his spokesmen has offered that rebuttal since publication of an online article, last Monday, about lavish spending by the RNC.
Without the White House or control of Congress to help leverage contributions from big donors, Steele said he has ordered the party to scale back the sorts of events that "major donors are used to."
High-dollar donors have been among Steele's harshest critics. Since he took over as chairman last year, the RNC has relied much more heavily on smaller donors, raising money online, through the mails and by phone, as well as at receptions and other in-person events.
"I think a lot of this has really kind of taken it a lot further down the road and blowing it up larger than it needs to be," said Steele. "At the end of the day, I've raised more money than the Democrats in 7 out of 12 months. I carry over the same amount of money as the DNC into 2010. We had a very good March. We'll have a very good April.
"But," he went on, "the bottom line is, I hear my donors. I hear our base out there. I hear the leadership. And we're taking steps to make sure that we're even more--how shall we say?--fiscally conservative in our spending. And certainly making sure that the dollars are there when it's time to run our campaigns."
Steele also riffed on some themes from previous interviews. He said he is being subjected to a double standard, because he's black, and again compared himself to President Barack Obama.
Stephanopoulos (reading from an emailed question by a viewer): "Do you feel that as an African-American you have a slimmer margin for error than another chairman would?"
Steele: The honest answer is 'Yes.'
Stephanopoulos: Why is that?
Steele: It just is. Barack Obama has a slimmer margin. We all--a lot of folks do. I mean, it's just a different role for, you know, for me and for others to play. And that's just the reality of it."
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, asked about Steele's remark, said the Republican chairman's problem "is not the race card, it's the credit card.'' Check this report, which includes a video clip of Steele on ABC, at "The Swamp."
Steele also said that, despite having spent virtually his entire life in the Washington, DC area, he's not a DC insider.
"My view on politics is much more grassroots oriented. It's not old-boy-network oriented," said Steele, whose career in politics took off when his old friend Bob Ehrlich tapped him as his running mate in 2002. "And so I tend to, you know, come at it a little bit stronger, a little bit more streetwise, if you will. That's ruffled some feathers the wrong way."
He concluded: "At the end of the day, I'm judged by whether I win elections and I raise the money. That's a standard I'm very comfortable with and look forward to meeting in November."
The nationally televised remarks were the first by Steele since a mini-scandal erupted over nearly $2,000 in "meals" that the RNC spent at a topless night club in West Hollywood. He wasn't asked this morning why he didn't speak in public for a full week about the incident at the bondage-themed club, but one online commenter has speculated it was because Steele was tied up.