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Powell Defends GOP Credentials, Calls for More Inclusive Party

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell is fighting criticism about his loyalty to the GOP. (AP Photo)

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell took on Dick Cheney and Rush Limbaugh Sunday, shooting down their accusations that he had abandoned the Republican Party while continuing to dish out advice to the GOP. 

Powell, speaking on CBS' "Face the Nation," touted his Republican credentials and urged his party to be more moderate and inclusive. He was answering back after Limbaugh called on him to join the Democrats and Cheney said he thought Powell had already left the GOP. 

"Rush will not get his wish and Mr. Cheney was misinformed. I am still a Republican," Powell said, noting that he "voted solidly for Republican candidates" for president for 20 years, spent 10 years of his life serving in Republican administrations and spoke at two GOP conventions. 

"You know, neither (Cheney) nor Rush Limbaugh are members of the membership committee of the Republican Party. I get to make my decision on that," Powell said. "And so I will continue to work in a way that I think is helpful to the country and helpful to the party." 

He said the reason he endorsed Barack Obama for president last fall -- a decision that prompted a wave of conservative discontent with Powell -- was he believed Obama was "best-qualified" to lead. 

And Powell dismissed Limbaugh's claim that the only reason Powell, who is black, backed Obama was because of his race. 

"I don't want to exchange insults with him. But I thought it was unfortunate," Powell said. "I laid out a very specific set of reasons as to why I was voting for Barack Obama. Mr. Limbaugh saw fit to dismiss all those reasons and put it into a racial context." 

Powell, meanwhile, encouraged more criticism within the GOP of Limbaugh -- he said Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele had to "lay prostrate on the floor apologizing" for his criticism of Limbaugh, but that the talk show host "shouldn't have a veto over what someone thinks." 

And he urged the party to look beyond the most conservative elements of its base. 

"I believe we need a strong Republican Party that is not just anchored in the base but has built on the base to include more individuals," Powell said. "If we don't reach out more, the party is going to be sitting on a very, very narrow base. You can only do two things with a base. You can sit on it and watch the world go by, or you can build on the base." 

This kind of advice has riled some conservatives, who warn that too much moderation will cause the Republican Party to merely mimic the Democrats. It stirred figures like Limbaugh and the former vice president to criticize Powell as disloyal. 

"I think my take on it was Colin had already left the party. I didn't know he was still a Republican," Cheney said on "Face the Nation" two weeks ago. He said Limbaugh better stands for GOP values than Powell. 

But Powell argued his case Sunday, warning that if the party moves too far right, Democrats and independents will take over the center and the right-of-center.