RNC Chief Michael Steele Surprises Many With Re-election Bid

BY David Chalian  December 14, 2010 at 8:25 AM EST

Michael Steele

RNC Chairman Michael Steele. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

To the surprise of members of the Republican National Committee and many outside Republican observers, party chairman Michael Steele announced plans to seek a second two-year term at the helm of the GOP.

On a conference call with committee members, Steele touted his tenure during which Republicans won historic victories culminating in a new majority status in the House of Representatives and in statehouses across the country. He also attempted to downplay criticism of his fiscal management of the party, which is closing out 2010 carrying $15 million in debt.

“The decision by Mr. Steele was met with anger and astonishment from an array of Republican officials. It was far from clear that his bid for a second term would be successful or that he would emerge as one of the leading contenders on Jan. 14, when the committee elects a chairman to guide the party through an election cycle where the chief goal is defeating President Obama,” writes Jeff Zeleny of the New York Times.

Jonathan Martin of POLITICO: “Steele’s decision to run represents a direct rebuke to the party’s establishment wing, many members of which have gone public since Election Day with their concerns about the state of the RNC under the former Maryland lieutenant governor. Figures such as Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and Texas Gov. Rick Perry have indicated that they preferred a different chairman. Bush administration figures such as Vice President Dick Cheney and former RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie have already lined up behind Maria Cino, a longtime GOP operative.”

As fascinating as the House vote on the president’s tax cut deal may be, it won’t hold a candle to the Jan. 14 vote for RNC chair. In a six or seven candidate race, a multi-ballot election is almost assured. For Steele, that may prove a complicating factor. As the embattled incumbent, his challenge will be to avoid having his support erode as challengers appear viable.

What remains to to be seen is how actively involved potential 2012 presidential candidates — Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich — will be in picking the party chief.

A divisive and messy election while Rep. John Boehner ascends to speaker of the House is unlikely to be welcome in the party’s congressional wing.

HEALTH CARE IN THE COURTS

A federal district judge struck at the heart of President Obama’s health care reform law when he declared the individual mandate, requiring every American to have insurance, unconstitutional.

The Obama administration began an aggressive response on the ruling Monday. Writes Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Attorney General Eric Holder in Tuesday’s Washington Post:

“As two federal courts have already held, this unfair cost-shifting harms the marketplace. For decades, Supreme Court decisions have made clear that the Constitution allows Congress to adopt rules to deal with such harmful economic effects, which is what the law does — it regulates how we pay for health care by ensuring that those who have insurance don’t continue to pay for those who don’t. Because of the long-held legal precedent of upholding such provisions, even President Ronald Reagan’s solicitor general, Charles Fried, called legal objections to the law ‘far-fetched.’”

Republicans are eager to expedite the appellate process by calling on the Supreme Court to take it up now since observers on all sides agree the case will eventually end up there.

“We need to get certainty and finality and this suit,” said Virginia’s Republican governor, Bob McDonnell, on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” this morning.

At the heart of the legal matter is the proper use of the commerce clause in the Constitution and the power of the federal government to levy taxes. The Washington Post takes a look at recent Supreme Court opinions to read the tea leaves on how the justices may come down in this case.

Meantime, the Obama administration has made clear that it will continue to implement the law.

TAX CUT DEAL MOVES FORWARD

The tax cut deal struck by President Obama and congressional Republicans easily cleared a procedural vote in the Senate Monday, setting up final passage possibly as soon as Tuesday evening.

The strong, bipartisan 83-15 vote means the package should have little trouble winning final approval in the upper chamber. Once passed in the Senate, the proposal would move to the House, where its prospects are less certain.

House Democrats have objected to provisions that would extend Bush-era tax breaks for wealthy Americans for two years and set a top rate of 35 percent on a new estate tax, well below what they had expected.

Given those concerns, the administration had planned on winning a significant number of GOP votes to offset Democratic losses. But not all conservatives are happy with the compromise. GOP Reps. Jason Chaffetz of Utah and Michele Bachmann of Minnesota have said they will oppose the bill, POLITICO reports.

Republican leaders outside Congress are also urging a “no” vote. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney penned an editorial in Tuesday’s USA today contending the tax cuts should be made permanent and criticizing the cost of the plan. Romney writes:

“President Obama has reason to celebrate. The deal delivers short-term economic stimulus, and it does so at the very time he wants it most, before the 2012 elections. But the long term health of our great engine of prosperity will remain very much in doubt. To the twin inevitabilities of death and taxes, we may now have to add persistent high unemployment.”

Lawmakers must act on the package before adjourning for the year, or nearly all Americans will see their income taxes go up next year. But there appears to be little appetite for that on Capitol Hill, or across the country. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows 69 percent of Americans support the tax cut agreement.

RICHARD HOLBROOKE, 1941-2010

Veteran U.S. diplomat Richard Holbrooke died Monday in Washington of complications from surgery to repair a torn aorta. He was 69.

Holbrooke brokered the 1995 Dayton peace accords that ended the war in Bosnia and was the Obama administration’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In a written statement, President Obama called Holbrooke “a true giant of American foreign policy who has made America stronger, safer, and more respected.”

Here are some of the obituaries appearing Tuesday:

The Washington Post: Richard Holbrooke dies: Veteran U.S. diplomat brokered Dayton peace accords

The New York Times: Strong American Voice in Diplomacy and Crisis

The Los Angeles Times: Diplomat Richard Holbrooke dies at 69

Foreign Policy Magazine: Richard C. Holbrooke, 1941-2010

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