RNC Chairman Michael Steele says he and Obama have it harder because of their race

Monday, April 5, 2010

Embattled RNC Chairman Michael Steele broke his silence on the RNC fundraising scandal known as "bondage-gate" Monday morning when he sat down for an interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC's "Good Morning America." Expressing racial kinship with the man he spends a good deal of his time attacking, Steele said that because of the color of their skin, he and President Obama aren't granted much latitude for mistakes on the job.

Stephanopoulos, offering up a question from a viewer named "Myron" via his blog, asked, "Do you feel that, as an African-American, you have a slimmer margin for error than another chairman would?"

"The honest answer is yes," said Steele responded. "Barack Obama has a slimmer margin. A lot of folks do. It's a different role for me to play and others to play and that's just the reality of it. But you take that as part of the nature of it."

 Steele also highlighted the stylistic differences between himself and leaders of the GOP establishment. His approach to leading the party is "grass-roots-oriented" rather than "old-boy-network-oriented," he said, telling Stephanopoulos that he tends to "come at it a little bit stronger, a little bit more streetwise." He grants that his leadership style has "rubbed some feathers the wrong way."

Steele also addressed the scandal that broke last week when the conservative website The Daily Caller revealed that the RNC had reimbursed close to $2,000 in expenses for entertaining donors at a bondage-themed sex club in West Hollywood. The issue has become "larger than it needs to be," Steele said, and stressed that he took swift action, firing the staffer who had put in for the expenses and ensuring that the committee doesn't get involved in such spending in the future. Even so, longtime GOP donors have started to direct money away from the RNC, opting instead to give directly to candidates or the party's House and Senate campaign committees.

 "The reality of it is, when I first heard about this behavior going on, I was very angry, and we dealt with it. We got to the bottom of it," Steele said. "We have been putting great controls in place for the last few months, as a matter of fact, on some of our financing."

Steele also denied the larger thrust of the report in The Daily Caller: that he's a high-roller who overspends on private airfare, deluxe travel accommodations, and limousines. He added that figures within the GOP have been keen to flush him out of his post "since the day I got the job."

He insisted that his record speaks for itself. "At the end of the day, I've raised more money than the Democrats in seven out of 12 months," Steele said. "I carry over the same amount of money as the DNC in 2010. 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 it - fiscally conservative in our spending and certainly making sure the dollars are there when it's time to run our campaigns."

Steele's charm offensive may give him some breathing room as he continues piloting the national GOP toward the critical 2010 midterms - though the committee's bid to move on and restore order was derailed a bit by a report in Monday's Washington Post that it had hired Neil S. Alpert as a fundraising aide. Alpert had been fined $4,000 by the District of Columbia for alleged fundraising improprieties involving a political action committee supporting major-league baseball in the District. Albert paid the fine but denied any wrongdoing, according to Post reporter Perry Bacon Jr.

Meanwhile, the White House has already weighed in with a jaundiced view of Steele's racial observations. When a reporter sought comment at Monday morning's press briefing, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs called Steele's racial aside a "silly comment to make" and quipped, "I think Michael Steele's problem isn't the race card; it's the credit card."

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