New GOP Chair Comes Out Swinging

Michael Steele demands Republicans oppose Daschle's Cabinet nomination.

ByABC News
February 2, 2009, 8:24 AM

Feb. 2, 2009 -- The new chairman of the Republican National Committee said Sunday that his party should put the brakes on Democratic initiatives, from the economic stimulus bill to President Obama's plans for his Cabinet.

Michael Steele said in a telephone interview that Republicans should oppose former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle's nomination to be secretary of Health and Human Services. Daschle is the second Cabinet nominee to acknowledge he didn't pay thousands of dollars in taxes.

"We've already let one cat out of the bag with (Treasury Secretary Timothy) Geithner," Steele said. "So what's the standard down to, to be a Cabinet secretary? You don't have to pay your taxes? Come on."

As he bought groceries near his Maryland home and fielded congratulations from shoppers, Steele also said Republicans should keep Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., from becoming Obama's Commerce secretary. Steele said he'd take lightly any assurance that the state's Democratic governor would name a Republican successor.

"We'd better be very suspicious," he said. He said he hoped to talk to Gregg on Monday to encourage him to stay in the Senate.

As for the stimulus package, Steele praised House Republicans for giving it zero support and said GOP senators should "kill" their bill if it's equally bad.

Steele, his party's first African-American chairman, said Friday after winning that the GOP had been misdefined as uncompassionate. He said Sunday that opposing the stimulus bill, which Obama and Democrats say is crucial to helping struggling families, does not signal lack of compassion.

"Tax policy is not about compassion," he said. "It's about what makes … fiscal sense for an economy in trouble."

Later, Steele said he didn't want to sound insensitive about the stimulus "and those aspects of it that are there to help people. We have no problem with that." He said Democrats "lump all the compassionate parts with the very, very bad parts and that hurts the entire package."