Steele Tackles Elephant, Slays It
Republican National Chairman Michael Steele, in a private session Tuesday morning with state party leaders from around the country, addressed questions about his stewardship of the party's finances.
Judging by the reaction of those in the room, and their comments afterward, he put the issue behind him, at least as far as these party leaders were concerned.
"He addressed what he called the big elephant in the room," said Saul Anuzis, a national committeeman from Michigan who lost to Steele in the 2009 chairman's race and now is one of his allies inside the party.
Steele went into detail on the charter planes rented by the national party, the hotel rooms he stays in, and the kinds of cars he travels in.
"Nobody wanted to ask the question and he came out and addressed it," said Anuzis.
In a sense, Steele was reassuring the converted. His audience--Republican state party chairmen, who represent one-third of the Republican National Committee--have gone on record in support of the party chairman.
Last month, 38 of them signed a statement that they "stand behind Chairman Steele." The vote of confidence was a response to the latest controversy at the RNC under the former Maryland lieutenant governor.
After the party reported spending nearly $2,000 at a topless joint in West Hollywood, Steele replaced his chief of staff and top finance officers.
Dick Wadhams, the Colorado Republican chairman, said he was glad that Steele had made those changes.
They "needed to happen," said Wadhams, who added that the "alleged abuses" involving party spending had been exaggerated.
In his private meeting with party leaders, midway through a three-day RNC session at the National Harbor convention center in Prince George's County, Steele "did an excellent job of knocking down every one" of the charges that had been raised, he said.
"He certainly acknowledged that there were mistakes, and that's why there were changes in the finance area," said Wadhams, who said that Steele did not explicitly apologize for missteps.
Moments after the breakfast, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who has been a strong Steele defender, tossed a bouquet at the start of his speech to the party leaders.
"Chairman Steele stands on the edge of being the most successful RNC chairman since Haley Barbour in 1994," Gingrich said, to applause, while Steele, from his seat on a flag-bedecked stage, beamed.