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Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele is coming under fire from fellow Republicans for calling for retribution against moderate Sens. Arlen Specter (Pa.), Susan Collins (Maine) and Olympia Snowe (Maine) for supporting President Barack Obamas $787 billion stimulus bill.
After being confronted about the remarks, which Steele made during an Fox News interview on Tuesday, the new RNC chairman agreed to meet with the moderate Senators to discuss the matter, Snowe said Wednesday.
According to Snowe, during Tuesdays Republican policy luncheon, she approached the new RNC chairman and asked, You didnt really mean that, did you?
Snowe went on to say that the mind-set that moderates have no place within Republican Party has led to its shrinking presence in not only her home region of the Northeast but also its broader loss of power.
When we were in the majority, there were more of us. Now that were in the minority, there are less of us. ... If thats what they want to be, well thats their choice, she said.
During the interview with Foxs Neal Cavuto, Steele was asked what if any retribution he would look to exact. Steele responded that he would follow the lead of the state parties but was open to withholding RNC money from the three Senators.
My retribution is the retribution of the voters in their ... states. Theyre going to have to go through a primary in which theyre going to have to explain to those Republican voters in that primary their vote. ... Those Senators are going to have to account to those voters there, Steele said. When the state party says, Were going to endorse a candidate and support that candidate, the RNC is behind them. When the state party says, We have a problem with that candidate, so does the RNC.
National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) said that while Steele has backed off those comments somewhat, Republicans should focus on finding viable challengers to Democrats in the Northeast and other areas rather than attacking each other.
We need to be finding candidates that can win in different parts of the country ... not forming circular firing squads, especially when our numbers are so small, Cornyn said.
Even as he was facing criticism from moderates, sources also said Steele faced hard questions from conservative Members during the GOP meeting about his support for the D.C. voting rights bill now before the Senate. Steele, like many politicians with roots in the D.C. area, has supported the right for District residents to have voting representation in Congress, and in interviews with reporters in recent days has reaffirmed that support.
But many Senate Republicans, particularly conservatives, have been pushing hard to defeat the bill, which overcame a major filibuster hurdle on Tuesday. According to a Republican Senate aide familiar with the meeting, many GOP Senators were unhappy with his open support for the bill.
Senate Republicans say they believe Steele is stepping outside of his role, which should be to bolster the efforts of the House and Senate campaign organizations to elect Republicans.
You just cannot haphazardly call for primary challenges for your moderate wing one day and follow it with selling your base down the river the next. Somebody needs to tell him to relax, settle into the job and realize that nobody cares what the RNC chairman thinks about anything other than winning elections, one veteran GOP aide said.