POSTED: Thursday, January 7, 2010 - 5:44pm
UPDATED: Thursday, April 8, 2010 - 4:11am
Top GOP congressional aides have demanded that their colleagues at the Republican National Committee rein in Chairman Michael Steele after Steele suggested House Republicans could not retake the majority this November.
House and Senate leadership aides used a conference call Wednesday with RNC staff to voice their latest frustrations with Steele, who said "not this year" when asked Jan. 4 on Fox News whether the GOP would win control of the House in 2010.
This isn't the first time Steele has come under fire from Capitol Hill. He ignited a moderate backlash early in his tenure and again in November when he warned moderates against leaning too far to the left. In an ABC interview in November, Steele said: "Candidates who live in moderate to slightly liberal districts have got to walk a little bit carefully here, because you do not want to put yourself in a position where you're crossing that line on conservative principles, fiscal principles, because we'll come after you."
One Republican Senate aide familiar with Wednesday's conference call said Steele's latest remark couldn't have come at a worse time. "Democrats were having a bad week," the aide said. "They had retirements out of the blue, the poll numbers were in our favor and now all of sudden the news is that Republicans are somehow at fault."
According to multiple sources, Republican congressional aides bristled at Steele's decision to use his book tour to question Republicans' political chances. They pressed RNC staff to keep Steele quiet and cancel any more media appearances.
Although RNC Research Director Jeff Berkowitz originally defended the campaign committee and Steele, aides ultimately acknowledged that they have little control over the former Maryland lieutenant governor and that they are not in charge of lining up his media appearances while he is promoting his book.
"Their response was, 'We're not booking the book stuff,' " a second GOP Senate aide said. And while RNC staff said they would try to get Steele "back on message," this Senate aide said the frustration goes well beyond Steele's latest statement, charging that he is using his position at the RNC to line his own pockets rather than raise much-needed campaign cash.
"Republicans at all levels have been working day and night to build a wave, and every time we turn around the guy standing on the surfboard is busy trying to collect admission to watch him ride," the aide said, arguing that "he has an agenda of his own that isn't reflected by the goals of the party as a whole."
Republicans said there's a growing concern that Steele is catering to conservative activists and others who may not have the party's best interests at heart. Steele mounted an unsuccessful bid for Senate in 2006, running as a moderate.
"He's talking like he's some kind of tea partier ... when [in 2006] he was THE most moderate candidate we had in the field. That was his whole thing, and he had no problem trashing [former President George W.] Bush and others for being too conservative," one GOP aide said.
The fresh demands that the RNC find a way to control its chairman comes as top GOP donors have also started turning their backs on Steele's operation in favor of other campaign committees. Christine Toretti, a Pennsylvania RNC member and longtime GOP donor, told the Washington Times this week, "I don't plan to give to the Republican National Committee this cycle, and no other major donor I know is planning to either."
Steele has also come under harsh criticism for accepting paid speaking engagements while he is working as the RNC's chairman — a job that includes giving numerous speeches to set the national message for the party. "I mean, your job is to give speeches. That's what you got elected to do," one Republican said.
An RNC spokeswoman declined to comment on staff discussions.
But in an interview with ABC News radio Thursday, Steele was defiant, telling his critics to "get out of the way."
"I'm telling them and I'm looking them in the eye and say I've had enough of it. If you don't want me in the job, fire me. But until then, shut up. Get with the program or get out of the way," he said.
Jackie Kucinich contributed to this story.