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Heard on the Hill: Steele’s Measuring the Drapes

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele is supposed to be remaking the GOP’s battered public image — but it’s another kind of makeover that’s getting the new party leader in trouble.

As criticism of Steele from within Republican ranks has grown in recent days, some GOP insiders are grumbling that the new RNC leader has spent some of the organization’s scant cash to remodel his Capitol Hill office, even as other pressing matters languish, like filling top staff positions.

In a little-noticed portion of an interview with GQ magazine published last week (in which Steele’s lenient views on abortion drew heavy criticism from his fellow Republicans), Steele offered that he intended to revamp his office, calling the wood-paneled digs that housed previous party chairmen “way too male.” In the interview, Steele said he wants to give his new workspace a fresh new look.

Republican sources confirm that Steele’s office has indeed been spruced up, with fresh wallpaper and a new desk. However, these GOP sources dispute accusations that Steele is spending lavishly to completely overhaul his office.

“It sounds like some of his enemies are overreaching here,” said one knowledgeable Republican source.

“Unlike [former RNC Chairman Ken] Mehlman, [Steele] talks. And talks,” said GQ. “Nothing is off the record. Everything is amusing. Even the heavy dark-wood Republican furniture he has inherited. Don’t worry, he assures me, he’s ‘redoing the whole thing. This is gonna sound weird, but it’s way too male for me.’”

Steele has come under fire in recent weeks for sparring with talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh and not moving quickly enough, in the eyes of his critics, to hire for top-level director positions at the RNC, although he did hire a chief of staff last week. Steele ordered all senior staff to resign from the committee after he won the chairmanship on Jan. 30.

And as grumblings about Steele’s statements on abortion and a few other gaffes have drawn fire, HOH has uncovered more evidence that Steele isn’t planning to go anywhere — in fact, he’s getting quite comfortable in his new office: Sources say a Bowflex exercise machine recently arrived at RNC headquarters, presumably for the chairman to work on those abs of Steele.

Still, as Steele settles in and peruses paint chips, his party is looking for ways to pinch pennies. Republican consultant Curt Anderson, one of Steele’s advisers as he reshapes the RNC, has said the committee is going to have to do more with less this election cycle, particularly now that it can’t rely on the president for fundraising.

Maybe Steele should be thinking more HGTV’s “Decorating Cents” than MTV’s “Cribs.”

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