After Bashing Bush, Steele Backs Down

ByABC News
July 25, 2006, 10:13 PM

TAKOMA PARK, Md., July 25, 2006 — -- The GOP Senate candidate who anonymously described his Republican affiliation as an "impediment" to his electoral prospects while speaking with the Washington Post's Dana Milbank and others at a Monday luncheon is none other than Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, ABC News learned Tuesday.

"'I've got an 'R' here, a scarlet letter,'" said Steele of his party affiliation. "'If this race is about Republicans and Democrats, I lose.'"

Despite having been recruited to run for the Senate by President Bush and key Republican leaders eager to improve the party's performance among African-American voters, Steele separated himself rhetorically from many central aspects of the Bush administration's record. He called the government's response to Hurricane Katrina "'a monumental failure,'" saying, "'We became so powerful in our ivory towers, in our gated communities. We forgot that there are poor people.'"

In a Tuesday interview with ABC News in Takoma Park, Md., intended to test the potential public policy impact of his private disenchantment, Steele would not pledge to forego a congressional pay raise until the minimum wage is increased, a notion recently proposed by Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and others.

"Trust me, whether or not a congressman gets a pay raise has nothing to do with the brother who's living on the street corner," said Steele.

Steele charged potential Senate colleagues with "lying to the public" by promoting a minimum wage hike, lambasting "anyone, whether it's Ted Kennedy, or anyone else, who wants to dumb this down to the minimum wage." He contended that Kennedy's proposal, which would gradually raise the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour, would not "all of a sudden" give a lower income worker "an education, all of a sudden give that person a job, all of a sudden ... change their life around."

Kennedy spokeswoman Laura Capps responded to Steele's swipe by telling ABC News, "It is the height of hypocrisy to say it is fine for the Republican Congress to raise its pay while it refuses to raise the minimum wage. In the nine years since the minimum wage was last increased in 1997, Congress has voted itself eight pay raises totaling more than $31,000 a year."