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RNC Chairman Michael Steele on Obamacare, the mood of the electorate, and David Axelrod conflict of interest at the White House

Tuesday, August 25, 2009
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HH: Pleased to welcome now the chairman of the RNC, the Republican National Committee, Michael Steele. Chairman Steele, welcome back, always a pleasure to have you on the Hugh Hewitt Show.

MS: Hey, man, it’s always good to be with you, too. How are you doing?

HH: Great. You know, Michael, I have had an amazing experience the last day and a half. I urged people to send $10 bucks to Danny Tarkanian in Nevada, the only announced opponent thus far for Harry Reid.

MS: Right.

HH: And hundreds and hundreds of people have sent $10 bucks to Tark as a means of telling the majority leader we just don’t like this Obamacare. Is that the kind of energy you’re seeing across the country?

MS: Absolutely. Hugh, you are absolutely right, and it’s exciting to see. It’s interesting, because Harry Reid has always kind of been very much like Barbara Boxer, down in the numbers in their respective states when it’s time for re-election. It’s just that we’ve never had a candidate who could begin to galvanize energy towards a competitive campaign. And we’ve got that emerging in Nevada, we’ve got it emerging in California. And a lot of it is centered around this sense that the government under the leadership of folks like Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, and certainly the President, are taking us to a place that we won’t recognize as America. And they don’t want it to happen, and they’re looking for leaders who are prepared to stand up, hold their ground, and fight for our freedoms and our liberties. And I think that that is what you see at the town halls, the tea parties. This movement of people out there, I think, is wonderful.

HH: Oh, I think if we get thousands or tens of thousands of people to send $10 bucks to Tark, we’ll make a message. That message will be received by Harry Reid, and they may have to have a few closed door meetings. Have you seen some cracks in the Democratic wall yet, Chairman Steele?

MS: I have, and I think it’s something that the press, which you know, it’s typical, I mean, keep in your mind that this presidency is largely of their creation, that they want to hide the fact that these cracks exist. There is a serious break between the blue dogs and Nancy Pelosi in the House, less so in the Senate, because the Senate moves at its own rhythm, it has a different feel about it. But still, it’s there. I think that you even see some tensions from time to time between the way the legislative branch wants to move on some of these issues and the way the executive branch wants to move. But the most important, Hugh, which is something that as Republicans we’ve had to deal with in reality over the last two election cycles is their base. The left of the Democratic Party is not very happy right now, because President Obama has come into office, and largely tried to keep in place with respect to the war in Iraq, the strategies of the Bush administration, Gitmo notwithstanding. And now, and in some other areas, he’s beginning to talk the language of well, we don’t know if we need a public option, and that’s not making them happy. But this is the reality. There will be a public option, because he’s going to capitulate to the left of the party. Nancy Pelosi is driving this issue from the House side. And you had Senator Baucus yesterday himself come out and say oh, well, I’m for the public option. So they’re going to close in on that agenda. They just want to play the good cop/bad cop scenario where the President’s saying oh well, you know, if the people don’t want a public option, we don’t have to do it. And Nancy Pelosi and crew playing the bad cop saying you know, we will not pass a bill without this option. So I’m loving it.

HH: Michael Steele, today Russ Feingold is quoted as saying they can’t possibly get a vote on this until December at the earliest. Do you believe him?

MS: I do. And a lot of it is going to depend on where the President is when he comes back from vacation. The country right now is beginning to speak, and I think there will be more voices to be heard in the fall. The members will come back in about a week to what they think will be the nice, safe, iconic enclave of Washington only to be greeted certainly by me, and a lot of other folks out there who are going to remind them that the work is now just beginning. The people have spoken over the summer. Now let’s get busy to give them what they want, not what your left wing agenda dictates.

HH: Coming up after the break, I’m going to talk with Hal Scherz, a doctor in Atlanta who has organized www.docs4patientcare.org, sua sponte, did it on his own. He’s got more than a thousand docs across the country flying in to D.C. on September 10th. That’s genuine grass roots activism.

MS: Thank you. Yup. And I can guarantee you this administration and their ilk will look at them and turn their nose up, saying it’s some right wing cabal. Well you know, God bless you if that’s what you want to think, but it’s not. It’s people who are genuinely concerned about their health care, but most importantly, I think, about the role the government is beginning to assert for itself. We are still a government of, by and for people, not government as an institution.

HH: Excuse me, the National Center for Policy Analysis, Michael Steele, ran an online petition. You can still sign it at Hughhewitt.com, America. They have a million, two hundred thousand people have signed this opposing Obamacare. It’s going to be taken to Washington early September as well. Is it important for people to continue to do this, or to continue to sign petitions like the NCPA’s, continue to fly to D.C? Or is it irrelevant at this point now that we know where public opinion is?

MS: No, I don’t. No, no, no. They want public opinion to die down. I’ve already heard some of the most smart-minded among us here on the Hill say well, you know, when we get back, when they get back, things will be different. Yeah, right. Not if we can help it. So I would tell your audience, I would tell those who are tuning in for the first time, to be involved, to be engaged in this issue. Do not let this moment slip by where you let control of your decisions and your life and your health care choices slip into the hands of a bureaucratic, monopolistic government that has not your best interest at heart, but it’s own. And so continue to sign those petitions, continue to be involved, continue to hold the elected officials that you sent to Washington and to your state capitols accountable. And I don’t know where you get off thinking that they stop being accountable to you just because you won an election.

HH: Great op-ed by you yesterday on seniors, and I want to start with a tough question, very blunt. Do you think the AARP has betrayed senior citizens?

MS: I have, and I think it’s being matched by the fact that over 60,000 of them have walked on this issue because of this issue. The AARP is playing to its political interests and agenda and not the interest and the agenda of the people who write them a check every year as dues-paying members. I have, you know, I keep getting these AARP like time to join, time to join. I tear them up and throw them away, because they’re not being really true to what their mission should be, and that is what’s in the best interests of seniors. So you know, I thought it was important to put out a benchmark, Hugh, in which we would say coming into this fall debate on heath care, we are not going to lose sight of the fact that there are a lot of our senior citizens out here who are very much concerned about this. And so when I talk about, you know, being in front on the Medicare issue, I’m not talking about increasing spending and reckless regard for the efficiencies that the marketplace demand when it comes to this program. I want to make it efficient. I want to make it sufficient for seniors to access the health care that they need. I don’t need this president, and I don’t want this president, to take money out of a broken system everyone will acknowledge is broken, and shift it to another government program that will put it further into debt.

HH: Do you think, Michael Steele, that senior citizens should drop out of AARP at least until AARP changes its support for Obamacare?

MS: I think that’s a judgment that each member’s going to take, or make for themselves. And like I said, a significant number of them already have. It’s how they’re speaking and sending their message directly to the organization. I would like to, and I will do it on this show, I will call out AARP and say let’s work together on this. We put a bill of rights for our senior citizens on the table. I have heard through various news sources that the AARP says that they agree with what I said in principle, it’s just that they’re glad that none of that’s in the bills that the House and Senate is considering. Well, come on, that’s stupid. I mean, so come on, it’s not joining the dark side. You’re joining the right side here. You’re going to be on the right side of senior health care issues, and you’re going to be one of the advocates that you should be to make sure this administration gets it right. So I would love to partner with AARP on this. We’ve got the framework on the table. Let’s come together and go to the administration standing in front of, beside and behind the seniors of this country, and help them get it done right.

HH: Michael Steele, David Axelrod, senior advisor to President Obama, continues to receive money, and will be receiving $2 million dollars over the next few years from his former firm. His former firm is benefiting by millions of dollars from AARP and Big PhRMA and others. Do you think Mr. Axelrod has a conflict of interest?

MS: Oh, can you spell conflict of interest? I mean, it doesn’t get any more conflict of interest than that. I mean, if Mr. Axelrod’s name was Mr. Rove, you’d be hearing a very different chorus of songs sung by the left and the media at this point. They would be beating drums for his immediate dismissal from any association with the White House, and there would be members of Congress calling for investigations. None of that. All you hear is crickets when this subject comes up. Why is that?

HH: Well…

MS: And that is the part of this puzzle that frustrates a lot of people, not just the political types like myself, but folks who look at this and go now wait a minute, how come all of a sudden now, you know, senior advisor to the president, the architect, if you will, of his election and his success in getting to the White House, his firm is benefitting from the very thing that the President is trying to do, and no one seems to think that there’s a conflict there. Well, there is. And Mr. Axelrod should be forthcoming and create that Chinese wall of separation, if you will, and make certain that the public at least can believe when the President says that he wants to be one of the most ethical administrations in history, that they actually mean it.

HH: Michael Steele from the RNC, always a pleasure, Mr. Chairman.

End of interview.

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