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Chairmen Kaine and Steele on "This Week"

Chairmen Kaine and Steele on "This Week"

By This Week - May 23, 2010

TAPPER: Hello again. Joining me now, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Tim Kaine, and the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Michael Steele. Gentlemen, welcome.

KAINE: Hey, Jake, good to be with you.

STEELE: Jake, good to see you.

TAPPER: I want to get to the general election results in a second, but first, I want to bear in on a couple of controversies we have, and I'm going to start with you, Mr. Steele.

STEELE: OK.

TAPPER: I don't know if you were expecting (ph) that or not--

STEELE: Kind of.

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: The Kentucky Senate candidate, Rand Paul, has expressed his objections philosophically to the federal government being able to tell businesses that they cannot discriminate. Here's Rand Paul.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RAND PAUL, SENATORIAL CANDIDATE, R-KY.: I like the Civil Rights Act in a sense that it ended discrimination in all public domains. I abhor racism. I think it's a bad business decision to ever exclude anybody from your restaurant. But at the same time, I do believe in private ownership.

There's ten different titles, you know, to the Civil Rights Act. One deals with private institutions, and had I been around, I would have tried to modify that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Chairman Steele, you have worked so hard to bring minorities into the Republican Party. Here is a Senate candidate saying that he doesn't think the government, philosophically, should be able to tell a business that they can't -- that they have to serve you.

STEELE: Right, right.

TAPPER: Do you have an issue with that?

STEELE: Well, I do, and I think it's important to understand that Rand Paul has clarified his statement and has reiterated his support for and, you know, movement towards pushing civil rights forward as opposed to going backwards, number one.

Number two, our party has always had a strong view on this issue. We fought very hard in the '60s to get the civil rights bill passed as well as the voting rights bill. So I think that, you know, any -- any, you know, attempted look backwards, it's not in the best interests of our country, certainly, and certainly not in the best interests of the party.

So, you know, I've talked to Rand. He and I are on the same page. Our party stands four-square about moving forward on civil rights. Looking at the civil rights issues of the day -- education, for example -- there are many other fights that loom ahead for us in this area, so Rand Paul as United States senator will be four-square with the Republican Party, in lockstep with moving forward on civil rights, not looking backwards.

TAPPER: Chairman Kaine, this is traditionally a Republican seat. Do these views of Rand Paul make this seat more competitive in your mind?

KAINE: Absolutely, they do, Jake. Of course, it starts with our candidate, Jack Conway, who's the attorney general, I think he's going to run a great race. But Rand Paul's views on this, his statement this week that he thinks it's un-American for President Obama to try to hold British Petroleum accountable for the spill in the Gulf--

TAPPER: Let's talk about that. What do you think about that?

STEELE: Well, I mean, our own speaker of the House referred to American citizens as un-American, so I think referring to a policy which he did not say it was un-American per se. He said going in that direction could be an un-American--

TAPPER: We have -- we actually have the video clip. Let's watch that.

(CROSSTALK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAUL: What I don't like from the president's administration is this sort of, you know, I'll put my boot heel on the throat of BP, and I think it's part of this sort of blame game society in the sense that it's always got to be someone's fault, instead of the fact that maybe sometimes accidents happen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Certainly, accidents happen is not what you want the Republican response about the BP oil spill--

STEELE: Well, you know, well, look, I mean, it's not -- people shouldn't worry about the Republican response to the BP oil spill. They should worry about the Democrat president's response to the BP oil spill. It is one thing to actually get on the ground and get in front of this thing. It's another thing to sit back and hold BP accountable without helping them, and that's what's happening here. I mean, the federal government should have stepped into this thing immediately, to help make sure that the appropriate steps are being taken by BP, all federal agencies in support of the state government to try to get this thing cleaned up. And here we are, almost a month and a half later, and it's still spilling oil.

TAPPER: How about that, Chairman Kaine? A lot of Democrats are criticizing the Obama administration for not doing enough to hold BP accountable.

KAINE: The administration is doing two things. It starts with BP's accountability, and Rand Paul is wrong. It isn't un-American to hold somebody accountable for a massive environmental disaster of this kind. This isn't just a mistake that we can wash away. BP has got to be accountable for stopping the spill and then cleaning up and paying for the consequences. The administration has had a team working with BP from the very beginning trying to look at ways to help them do it, but it is BP's job. They have to be held accountable, and saying that it's just a mistake that needs to be washed away, or saying, as Rand Paul did, for example, that, you know, we needn't be so worried about things like mining regulations -- I mean, this is a very important role that the government has, to protect the safety of the environment and the health of its citizens. And so, Rand Paul's statements along these lines are very, very troubling, and it's important for Republican leaders to say whether they back this kind of an attitude or not.

I was a civil rights lawyer for 17 years. Rand Paul wrote a letter about the Fair Housing Act to a local newspaper, saying a free society should tolerate private discrimination, even if it means that hate-filled groups exclude people based on the color of their skin.

TAPPER: That's pretty much a direct quote.

STEELE: That's a direct quote, and it's a philosophical position held by a lot of libertarians, which Rand Paul is. They have a very, very strong view about the limitations of government intrusion into the private sector. That is a philosophical perspective. We have had a lot of members go to the United States Senate with a lot of different philosophies, but when they get to the body, how they work to move the country forward matters, and right now, the federal government is not moving forward on BP and cleaning up that mess; the federal government is not moving forward on the economy and creating jobs. There are a lot of -- there are a lot of philosophies, a lot of talk on this hill about folks to get stuff done. What the American people are looking for is what are the concrete steps that this administration has taken to clean up the mess in the Gulf before it gets worse, and to create the jobs that are necessary for people to go back to building the economy the way that everybody wants it to be.

TAPPER: Fair enough, but just one more -- one more beat on Rand Paul, and that is do you condemn that point of view? I mean, where would African-Americans be if the federal government hadn't come in and said, hotels, you have to--

STEELE: Exactly. That's very much a part of the debate back in the '60s, as it is going forward. But the reality of it is, our party has stood four-square behind, you know--

TAPPER: But do you condemn that view?

STEELE: I can't condemn a person's view. That's like, you know, you believe something and I'm going to say, well, you know, I'm going to condemn your view of it. It's the people of Kentucky will judge whether or not that's a view that they would like to send--

TAPPER: Are you comfortable with that?

STEELE: I am not comfortable with a lot of things, but it doesn't matter what I'm comfortable with and not comfortable with. I don't vote in that election. The people of Kentucky will. As a national chairman, I'm here to say that our party will move forward in fighting for the civil rights and liberties of the American people, especially minorities in this country, and we're going to do everything in our power to make sure that everyone who's going to come to the United States Congress or go to state capitals with a Republican label are in that fight with us.

TAPPER: It sounds like you're not comfortable with it.

STEELE: I just said I wasn't (ph) comfortable--

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Let me turn to something to make you uncomfortable, if I can, and that is the race in Connecticut. Democratic candidate Richard Blumenthal has been caught exaggerating his war record. Here's Richard Blumenthal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL, CONNECTICUT SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: We have learned something very important since the days that I've served in Vietnam.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Now, he didn't serve in Vietnam. He was a Marine reservist--

KAINE: During the Vietnam war, right.

TAPPER: During the Vietnam war. He's also quoted in the Milford Mirror in 2008 (ph) saying, "In Vietnam, we had to endure taunts and insults and no one said, welcome home. I say welcome home." In the Stanford Advocate in 2008, he said, "I wore the uniform in Vietnam, and many came back to all kinds of disrespect."

This seems like a real trust issue that voters might have with him.

KAINE: Those statements were wrong, period. They were wrong. And it was very important for him to acknowledge that and clear that up. Now, in his defense, he has given numerous speeches that are in the public record where he's talked extensively about his service, what he did, what he didn't do. One of the papers you mentioned, the Stanford Advocate, ran a very good editorial about that very thing yesterday, and reporters who covered Attorney General Blumenthal for years have said that they have never known him to exaggerate what his service was. But in those statements, he was inflating and exaggerating. They were wrong, and it was important that he set that straight.

STEELE: At a time when the American people are clearly rebelling against the same-old, same-old in politicians, Blumenthal is not the kind of guy I think they want to send anywhere, let alone to Washington to serve at this time, so I think there is a big credibility gap here. You can't say, well, you know, on the one instance, I lied to you, but on the other, since I made up for it by explaining why I lied to you. It doesn't make sense to the American people, and he's got a real problem right now, and I think that there are going to be other issues that are going to come to the fore on this, and so we'll see how it turns out.

But again, the people in Connecticut, just like the people in Kentucky, will have the final say and the ultimate say on these leaders. And you know, it's just, again, right now, there's just this mood out here that the people are sick and tired of (inaudible) -- sick and tired of the same-old in Washington. And these two examples that we're talking about are going to be judged by the people back home.

KAINE: Here's the -- let me just say a word about Connecticut. I mean, the interesting thing, there's of course Attorney General Blumenthal is not a new figure for Connecticut voters. It's an intimate, small state. They know him well. They've elected him to be attorney general. He served very well in that capacity for many years. They are going to weigh this in the grand scheme of things, but they have an awful lot of his record, including the numerous occasions where he's described accurately his military service, that they can use to judge him.

STEELE: But now they have something extra that they didn't know before.

TAPPER: Right. Are Democrats here in D.C. or in Connecticut at all preparing for a contingency where they might have to put another candidate up as happened with Torricelli in New Jersey?

KAINE: I was in Connecticut late last week, and I'm not aware of any contingency plan up there. I think it looks like the convention was held Friday. I think they're going ahead. Connecticut voters know him.

TAPPER: Moving forward to more -- out to elections in general. First of all, congratulations. There was a Hawaii special election last night that you guys won. But for competitive special elections, the Republican Party is one for four. There were two in New York, one in Pennsylvania. You did win the one in Hawaii, although the Democrat -- there were two candidates splitting the vote there. Does the Republican Party need to rethink its strategy?

STEELE: No, I mean, why do you dismiss the Hawaii vote so? Well, there was, you know, two other Democrats. That's a significant election win for us, and I'm going to -- I'm going to thank and congratulate Charles Djou on a great race, a very competitive race. That is a strong Democrat state, with very, very strong Democrat competitors that he ran against. I believe the voters there -- he took almost 40 percent of the vote, which is a significant number. He ran a grassroots campaign that was focused on the issues that impact the people of Hawaii. So don't just take away from that race, you know, sort of shoving it off. It is a significant win. It is the birthplace of the president of the United States.

TAPPER: Not everybody in your party think that way.

STEELE: Well, that's irrespective (ph) -- that's where the man was born--

(LAUGHTER)

STEELE: -- and we're proud of the fact that we were able to take that seat, just like we'll take his Senate seat in November.

KAINE: Jake, just for your viewers, of course the issue about the Hawaii race is for a special election, it's just a runoff, no primary. Three candidates ran, a Republican and two Democrats--

TAPPER: You guys couldn't convince one of the two Democrats to drop out of the race.

KAINE: Democrats are a fiery bunch, and if they want to run, they want to run. But let me just finish, Democrats got 60 percent of the vote in that race last night, and in the November--

STEELE: Yes, but you didn't win.

KAINE: In the November election, it will be one Democrat against one Republican, and we feel very, very confident about winning that race.

STEELE: And Hawaii (inaudible), they don't have a history of throwing incumbents out of office, so, you know, you've got--

KAINE: A three-month incumbent may be different.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Both good points. To the Pennsylvania 12th--

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Isn't that the kind of race you need to win?

STEELE: Well, look at the Pennsylvania 12th, folks. I mean, yes, on paper, you would think so, right? Why? Because it's Appalachia and it's a largely conservative--

TAPPER: Conservative Democrats. John McCain won the district. The Democrat was a staffer for John Murtha.

STEELE: Yes, but -- OK, can we -- can we be real here and get out of the conventional wisdom that Washington oftentimes gets stuck in? The reality of it here is, number one, hats off and kudos to Governor Rendell. He had a political genius point where he put the primary and the special election on the same day, and you guys wrote about, oh, gee, what does this mean? What's the mystery here?

Well, it's no mystery, because what happened was the voters went in to vote for Sestak for the primary and then had to flip the ballot over and then vote against him for the special election? They weren't going to do that.

So that, coupled with the 2-to-1 Democratic, you know, edge there made that a tough race from the very, very beginning. But the thing to keep in mind from our perspective -- and the governor certainly can appreciate this -- we were on our point in terms of our turnout, our voter turnout models, exceeded expectations. Our ground game was strong. And in November, we'll get that seat back, because then, guess what, independent conservatives get to play then, and that'll be a very different race.

TAPPER: Are you going to take the House back in November?

STEELE: We're working very hard to do that. But as you can see, you know, with -- some incumbents going down in primaries and newer players coming to the table, that model is still being built up for us. But absolutely, we're in the hunt. Just as he's in the hunt to protect, we're in the hunt to take.

KAINE: Jake, we're going to hold on to both houses, and I'll tell you why -- what this Pennsylvania 12th says. The Republican leadership said they were going to win this race. They said it was exactly the kind of district that they had to win to get a majority in the House.

We won it not just by a little, we won it by a lot, in a district, as you pointed out, that John McCain won in 2008. A former head of the NRCC, Tom Davis, a Virginia congressman, said, look, if they can't win this seat, where's the wave that's coming?

And the -- and the point that was very helpful is, Democrats were energized. Just like in Kentucky -- there's been all this focus on the Rand Paul race. The Democratic candidates in that primary in Kentucky both got more votes than Rand Paul did.

Our voters are energized after the passage of health care. With the economy improving, GDP growing again, we're going to pass soon in 2010 a mark where we will have created more jobs in the American economy in 2010 than in the entire eight years of the Bush administration. Things are looking up.

TAPPER: Let me interrupt. And -- and -- and you'll want me to. I only -- I only have a couple minutes, and I want to ask you about an interview that Sestak -- Congressman Sestak -- who beat Arlen Specter gave in February to legendary Philadelphia newsman Larry Kane on Comcast, in which he said that the White House tried to offer him something in exchange for not running against Arlen Specter in the primary. Here's that interview.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KANE: Were you ever offered a federal job to get out of this race?

SESTAK: Yes.

KANE: Was it Navy secretary?

SESTAK: No comment, though I would never get out for a deal. I'm in this for the Democratic--

KANE: OK, so but--

SESTAK: -- principles--

(CROSSTALK)

KANE: Was there a job offered to you by the White House? That's what it was?

SESTAK: Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Very quickly, because we're running out of time, does the White House have a responsibility to own up and talk about what exactly was offered?

KAINE: I don't know that they do. I mean, the issue is what the White House needs to do now, along with us, is working with -- with him to make sure he's the next senator. He's been a great congressman. I talked to -- I talked to Joe earlier this week. We had a great visit on Thursday. And he was very excited about working hand in hand to win this race. We're a big tent party. Obviously, he's a dynamite campaigner. He showed that on Tuesday, and I think he gives us a great shot in November.

STEELE: Oh, that's -- that's rich. You -- you don't believe the White House has an obligation here to own up and answer a simple question? Did you or did you not offer a member of the United States Congress a job to run for office?

TAPPER: Very quickly. We only -- I only have time for one more question. Very quickly, because you haven't done a Sunday show since that whole club voyeur controversy happened in February, there was a new report indicating that the RNC spent $2,000 on athletic and softball equipment. Can -- can donors to the Republican National Committee know that their money is being well spent?

STEELE: Absolutely they can. And the reality of it is, we have taken aggressive steps to-- to make the changes that are necessary. Our donors are strong. We're raising money, and we're looking forward to using that money to beat this guy in November.

TAPPER: All right.

KAINE: I can say with experience, they had a good softball team before they bought the equipment.

TAPPER: Thank you so much. You guys were wonderful.

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