Washington (CNN) – Embattled Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele spent Saturday calling GOP lawmakers and elected party officials to explain his controversial remarks on Afghanistan and to try to build support against calls for his resignation.
“He is reaching out to prominent Republicans, members of Congress, senators and members of the committee,” an RNC spokesman told CNN on Saturday. “And he has gotten strong support from Republican leaders.”
Steele is under fire from fellow Republicans for saying at a fundraiser Thursday in Connecticut that the war in Afghanistan “was a war of Obama’s choosing.” The RNC chairman also said that "This is not something the United States actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in.”
Steele’s statement contradicts the fact that the U.S. led a NATO coalition with overwhelming public support to invade Afghanistan following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Steele’s remarks were recorded and posted on YouTube.
Republicans ranging from Weekly Standard Editor William Kristol to Liz Cheney have called on Steele to step down. Former South Carolina Republican Party Chairman Katon Dawson also told CNN that Steele should resign. On Saturday, The Washington Times reported that North Dakota Republican Party Chairman Gary Emineth was considering challenging Steele when the RNC chairman’s election occurs in January, and Politico quoted Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, urging Steele to step down.
Unless Steele leaves on his own terms, right now it appears as though he will remain in his post until his two-year term as chairman ends early next year. It requires a vote by two-thirds of the 168 members of the Republican National Committee to remove a chairman from office, a high threshold both numerically and politically. At this time, it would be difficult to convince that many committee members to vote to remove Steele as chairman, several committee members and senior GOP strategists told CNN. Politically, there is very little appetite to showcase this internal party fight four months prior to the midterm elections.
“People are frustrated,” an RNC member, who spoke freely on the condition of anonymity, said in an interview. The RNC member said the hope is to convince Steele that “He shouldn’t run for re-election.”
Steele has not indicated if he plans on seeking a second term as head of the party.
Steele’s tenure at the RNC has been marked by electoral successes and public relations blunders and questions about his management. Since Steele became chairman, Republicans have won the governorships in New Jersey and Virginia, a U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts, and a U.S. House seat in Hawaii. Yet, Steele’s off-the-cuff remarks have gotten him in trouble with fellow Republicans including his much publicized spat with conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh. He has also come under fire for some questionable spending by the committee and for lack of oversight of the RNC’s finances.
“We were just starting to make some progress, unifying the party, coordinating our plan,” said another RNC member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “And this is the latest slap at that.”
Updated: 5:37 p.m.