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Transcript: RNC Chairman Michael Steele on 'FOX News Sunday'
Written by Chris Wallace / Published February 01, 2009 / Fox News Sunday
The following is a partial transcript of the Feb. 1, 2009, edition of "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace":
"FOX NEWS SUNDAY" HOST CHRIS WALLACE: On Friday, Republicans elected their first black national chairman. That is big news for a party that has traditionally been seen as failing to reach out to minorities.
Joining us now to tell us how he plans to turn around GOP fortunes is the new head of the Republican National Committee, Michael Steele.
Chairman Steele, congratulations.
RNC CHAIRMAN MICHAEL STEELE: Thank you, Chris. Thank you.
WALLACE: And welcome back to "FOX News Sunday."
STEELE: It's good to be back, yeah.
WALLACE: I want to start with something that you said in your victory statement on Friday just after you were elected by the RNC. And here it is.
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STEELE: We want you to work with us. And for those of you who wish to obstruct, get ready to get knocked over.
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WALLACE: Who were you talking about? Who are you thinking may want to obstruct?
STEELE: I'm thinking both inside and outside the party. I think it's an opportunity for us now to move this party forward on the ideas that matter to the voters, and so I'm not in the mood to have people stand in the way and say, "We can't. We've always done it this way. It's impossible to do."
I mean, I was told that in making this run. And I was told that when I decided to run for lieutenant governor of Maryland. So the idea that the opportunity presents itself and you fail to rise to it because someone is standing in your way to me just doesn't sit well.
So I wanted to make it very clear from the very beginning, my goal is to move this party forward. We're in the business of winning elections. And so I'm expecting my grassroots, my state parties, the national organization to get on board, to get on the page that is a winning page and move forward.
And for those Democrats and others who want to put up roadblocks and do the crazy typical play that they normally do — the name-calling and the obfuscation and the sleight of hand — I don't have time for it, because there are important issues that we have to face on the economy, the war, and issues that affect the poor. And I want to have this party in a position to move on those issues.
WALLACE: All right. Well, let's talk about how you reach out, and that's part of the key to this, because at this point...
WALLACE: ... the Republicans, if you look at the last election, are a minority party.
Let's talk about how you reach out to some of the groups that may feel alienated from the Republican Party. In November, John McCain got 31 percent of the Hispanic vote. Four years ago, President Bush did 13 points better.
Does the GOP need to change its position on immigration reform, guest workers, path to citizenship, to reach out and say to Hispanics, "You have a home in the Republican Party?"
STEELE: No. Well, I think the GOP's position on immigration is very much the position of many, many Hispanics who are in this country.
WALLACE: Well, wait a minute.
STEELE: Well, hold up. Hold up.
WALLACE: Wait. Is the GOP position the position of George Bush and John McCain, which is for immigration reform, or...
STEELE: The GOP...
WALLACE: ... or is it the position that was build the fence?
STEELE: The GOP's position is secure our borders first. Let us know and let us make sure the American people know that we've taken care of the important business of dealing with illegal immigration into this country.
You cannot begin to address the concerns of the people who are already here unless and until you have made certain that no more are coming in behind them.
WALLACE: So no change in the position of the party.
STEELE: No change in the position on the party on that.
WALLACE: You are one of the...
STEELE: How we messaged that is where we messed up the last time. We were pegged as being insensitive, anti-immigrant, and nothing could be further from the truth, because you talk to those leaders in the Hispanic community, they will tell you the same thing.
They understand the importance of making sure the United States' borders are secure.
WALLACE: You are one of the co-founders of something called the Republican Leadership Council...
WALLACE: ... which supports candidates who favor abortion and gay rights.
WALLACE: Does the GOP need to do a better job of reaching out to people who hold those views?
STEELE: I think — I think that's an important opportunity for us, absolutely, because within our party we do have those who have that view as well as outside.
And my partnership with Christy Todd Whitman was an effort to hopefully build a bridge between moderates and conservatives in the party. I'm a pro-life Roman Catholic conservative, always have been.
WALLACE: You also support a constitutional amendment against gay marriage.
STEELE: That's right. And the reality of it is this, because I don't think we should muck around with the Constitution. We can deal with that at the state level, OK? That's my personal view.
But the reality of it is the party has to recognize the diversity of opinion that's out there. And we're not going to get everyone to agree with the — Ronald Reagan said it best. If you agree with me 80 percent of the time, I think that's good enough. I mean, I think we can move forward on that 80 percent.
So there are some 80-percent issues out there that we can work with those within our party and outside our party and create a new bridge and a new opportunity. That was my involvement with the RLC, and I'm very happy about that.
WALLACE: But just to press on this...
WALLACE: ... if you believe — if someone believes in a woman's right to choose, if someone believes in gay civil rights, where's the 80 percent agreement with the Republican Party?
STEELE: It could be — it could be on our — on economics.
WALLACE: No, but I'm talking about on those issues.
STEELE: Well, you know, see — now, Chris, you've just defined — you've just defined the world in which there are issues. You've just narrowed — you've just narrowed my scope to two issues.
WALLACE: No, I'm just saying on those issues, is there 80 percent agreement?
STEELE: Well, if there — if that's the 20 percent they disagree with us on, let's work on the 80 percent where they agree with us. That's my point.
I'm not going to allow anyone to define the issues for us and say, "Well, these are the only two issues that really matter." There's a whole range of issues out there in which we can address the American people and the American people can come to our table.
WALLACE: All right. On Saturday, you spoke at a meeting of Republican congressmen, and you congratulated them on voting as a group against the House stimulus plan. In fact, as you put it, "the goose egg you laid on the president's desk was just beautiful."
Mr. Obama has a 70 percent approval rating. Eighty percent of the country says they want Republicans to work — not necessarily agree with, but to work with President Obama. Are you saying the GOP should just ignore that?
STEELE: No. I'm saying — well, I'm just — I'm saying the GOP did what the GOP had to do to protect the pocketbooks and the interests of the American people. That's a bad bill. It's not a stimulus bill. It's a spending bill. Let's call it what it is.
Don't tell me, "Well, I'm going to give you a third tax cuts, and then I'm to spend two-thirds of that." It's crazy. So I called it what it is. The Republican Congress did a great job in drawing the line.
I hope the Senate will follow. I hope the Senate members will follow with the House leaders in making certain that we do not spend the American people — the money that's proposed. It is not a good plan.
WALLACE: But, Chairman Steele...
WALLACE: ... if you end up with a bill that is passed by the House and the Senate, and every House member, Republican House member, votes against it, and every Senate Republican member votes against it, you don't think there's any danger that they're going to be seen as obstructing?
STEELE: Why? If I — if I think you've proposed something that is not in my best interests, why am I an obstructionist if I don't agree with it?
Why should I agree with something just because you proposed it? Why should I agree with it just because you have a 70 percent approval? You can still be wrong with a 70 percent approval rating.
WALLACE: Your party...
STEELE: And that's the reality here.
WALLACE: One thing that I think you will agree with me is that your party has had a couple of tough elections in 2006...
WALLACE: ... and in 2008. Let's take a look at the numbers. You've lost 14 seats in the Senate and, depending on Judd Gregg and Al Franken, possibly one or two more — there we go — 54 seats in the House, seven governorships. How much trouble is the GOP in?
STEELE: That's ugly, isn't it? That's some ugly numbers. And now we have an opportunity to turn that around. We've got a special election in the 20th Congressional District coming up in New York. We've got Virginia gubernatorial race. We've got New Jersey gubernatorial race.
We're going to be on the ground and engaged in all of those campaigns that are going to be important opportunities for us to re- establish the brand for the party, number one, but most especially, reacquaint ourselves with the voters and help them appreciate exactly what we stand for and what we believe, putting good candidates in a position to win.
That's my job, is to put good candidates in a position to win. Now, we're not going to win all of them, but we're going to start to win again in important races that matter, and we've got three of them coming up this year.
WALLACE: Here's where I'm a little bit confused. You say and other party leaders say, "Look, we are going to stick with our conservative principles," and I think you could make the argument this is still a center-right country.
STEELE: Absolutely, it is.
WALLACE: But the fact is, for whatever reason, people have moved away from the Republican Party. So is it — is it a question of salesmanship or, without giving up your basic principles, do you have to change some of your policies?
STEELE: You don't give up on your basic principles, number one. And keep in mind the losses that you've displayed there had nothing to do with our value for life, our value for a sound economy, the hard work that we...
WALLACE: So what was it about?
STEELE: It was about the fact that we failed to lead. We grew the size of government. When we're saying we believed in less government, we grew government. When we said we believe in less spending, we spent more.
We had a contract with America, 1994, with the American people and the party bound together in agreement that these would be some 10 principles that we would follow. We moved away from that. And the American people...
WALLACE: So are you saying — going back to 1994?
STEELE: No, I'm not saying we're going back to 1994, Chris. I'm saying that the principles that we espoused then are still true and good today...
WALLACE: But do you need new...
STEELE: ... and that's not what people moved away from us for. They moved away from us because we behaved badly.
We came to Washington, and we became like the people we were sent here to replace, and they replaced us.
WALLACE: But do you need to show Americans that you have new solutions...
WALLACE: ... to their daily kitchen-table concerns?
STEELE: Absolutely. Absolutely. It is taking those core principles of this party and making them relevant in the 21st century.
WALLACE: Such as? Give me an example of a new idea.
STEELE: Well, a new idea would be let's focus on poverty. Let's focus on how we can take someone who is being poorly educated in an American public school and how they are poorly trained for a job, and put in place those opportunities for them to get that education, give their parents choice in education, make it real for them.
We did it right here in my home town of the District of Columbia. The president of the United States, when he was a U.S. senator, blocked three times — tried to block three times legislation that would enable poor black children in this city to go to the high school that I graduated from, what they otherwise wouldn't be able to afford to do.
So create those opportunities. Put people on a pathway to earn a job, earn an education, so they can empower themselves. I don't need the government to do that.
WALLACE: And real quickly — we've got about 30 seconds left — I don't mean this to be a complete list, but talk about the future of the party. Give me three names of Republican leaders under the age of 50, as — who you see as new faces.
STEELE: Well, since I'm at 50, I guess I don't know, but...
WALLACE: ... include yourself anyway.
STEELE: I'd say certainly Bobby Jindal, Sanford — Governor Sanford, Pawlenty, Palin.
We have a whole host of folks out there that are beginning to emerge on the scene and will over the next couple of years, I think, redefine this party in a way that will be very good for us long term.
WALLACE: Chairman Steele, thank you.
STEELE: Thank you.
WALLACE: Thanks for coming in. I have a feeling...
STEELE: It's great to be here.
WALLACE: ... you're going to be an assertive spokesman for the Republican Party. Good luck in your new job, sir.
STEELE: Thank you, Chris.