January 10th, 2010
01:33 PM ET
13 years ago

GOP chair changes tune, says party will take back Congress

Washington (CNN) - Days after saying his party will not take back control of Congress this year, Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele reversed course Sunday.

"Oh, we will," Steele told "Fox News Sunday," adding, "We're well on our way."

Steele's remark last week that the party cannot take back the House of Representatives in 2010 added to turmoil within the party surrounding his embattled leadership.

Steele's initial remark came in a Monday interview with Fox News. But after telling the network that a new Republican majority in the House wouldn't happen "this year," he added, "Well, I don't know yet," and that there are vacancies to be filled.

"But then the question we need to ask ourselves is, if we do that, are we ready?"

Asked whether the party is ready, he responded, "I don't know. And that's what I'm assessing and evaluating right now."

Democrats wrested control of both houses of Congress in 2006 and now hold a 256-178 majority in the House, with one seat vacant. In the Senate, the Democrats have 58 of the 100 seats, plus two independents who caucus with them.

The National Republican Congressional Committee aimed to negate Steele's comments, saying the GOP can win back the majority of the House in the midterm elections. And on Tuesday, in an interview with CNN, Steele said he simply wasn't ready to make any predictions.

"No one is right now declaratively stating that we will win the House back in this November," Steele said. "If they are saying that, I'd like to see the crystal ball they are looking through, because there is a lot of politics
to unfold here, and a lot of races to be settled on both sides of the political tracks."

But on Sunday, Steele said reversed himself again, on both Fox and NBC's "Meet the Press."

"The rate we're going now, the ground game we're putting in place we absolutely can take the Congress back this year," he told NBC.

Gov. Tim Kaine of Virginia, chairman of the Democratic Party, said Steele was right the first time.

"They are not ready to lead," Kaine said of Republican leaders. "We see that over and over again - a philosophy that says no to everything, that stands by and watches an economy in free fall."

Republican discontent with Steele, the former Maryland lieutenant governor, has grown in recent weeks, with senior Republicans blasting their leader on numerous fronts, from his book tour to his public remarks. Republican congressional sources also complained Steele's comments suggesting the party may not take back Congress undermine fundraising efforts.

Anger at Steele boiled over on an internal GOP conference call that participants described as "ugly." Republican congressional aides expressed deep "frustration" to RNC staff about Steele.

Steele lashed out as his critics, saying last week, "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."

On "Fox News Sunday," Steele said he is "very passionate about winning ... And yeah, I get a little bit hot-headed."

And on NBC's "Meet the Press," the chairman defended his fundraising record for the party. "I think overall I'm doing OK," he said.

Katon Dawson, the former South Carolina Republican Party chairman who lost to Steele by just 14 votes in last February's RNC election, is re-emerging ahead of an important RNC gathering later this month. He will travel to the committee's Winter Meeting in Hawaii on Jan. 25.

He told CNN it would be "unfortunate" for political observers to read too much into the excursion. "I certainly understand how someone would see it that way, but that is not the intent of why I am going," he said. "I am going to reconnect with my Republican colleagues around the country."

- CNN's Dana Bash, Peter Hamby, and Lauren Kornreich contributed to this report.

Filed under: 2010 • Congress • GOP
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