WASHINGTON – Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean (search) on Wednesday defended his recent harsh criticism of Republicans, including his observation that they are "pretty much a white, Christian party."
Dean noted that he, too, is a white Christian. But he said the GOP is too narrow in its scope and the Democratic Party is far more diverse.
While even prominent Democrats in recent days have distanced themselves from some of his comments, the outspoken Dean, appearing on NBC's "Today" show, said criticism of him is meant to divert attention from the country's problems and make him the issue instead.
Dean told a forum of journalists and minority leaders Monday that Republicans (search) are "not very friendly to different kinds of people; they are a pretty monolithic party. ... It's pretty much a white, Christian party."
Challenged on that during the NBC interview, Dean said "unfortunately, by and large it is. And they have the agenda of the conservative Christians."
"This is a diversion from the issues that really matter: Social Security, and adequate job opportunity, strong public schools, a strong defense," Dean said.
Asked about it on the "Fox & Friends" show, GOP Party Chairman Ken Mehlman (search) joked that "a lot of folks who attended my Bar Mitzvah would be surprised" he heads a Christian party.
"We gotta get ourselves beyond this point where when we disagree about politics, we call the other guy names," he said.
Said House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill.: "Last week's scandal was Deep Throat. This week's scandal was Dean's throat, and apparently Dean likes the taste of his own foot."
Dean also recently raised eyebrows when he told a group of progressives that Republicans "never made an honest living in their lives," a comment he was forced to explain a day later. The one-time presidential candidate also said that House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, who has not been accused of any crime, ought to go back to Houston where he can serve his jail sentence.
Democratic New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said Tuesday that Dean is doing a good job, but is not the party's spokesman.
Last weekend, Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., and 2004 vice presidential candidate John Edwards criticized Dean for his recent remarks, saying he doesn't speak for them.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, talking with reporters Wednesday, said she did not agree with the statement Dean made about the Republican Party.
"The role of the chair of the Democratic National Committee is one that is different than the role of the Democratic leader of the House or in the Senate," the California congresswoman said, "and sometimes the exhuberance of that position results in statements that neither of us would make."
"I don't think that the statement the governor [Dean] made was a helpful statement," she said. But Pelosi said she thought that Dean was "doing a good job."
"Listen. Any one of us at any given time will make a statement that we may, in retrospect, say maybe that was a little over-enthusiastic," she said. "And I can put that statement in that category for Governor Dean."
Biden, asked about Dean Wednesday during an interview on the Don Imus radio show, also said the chairman is doing a good job.
"A lot of things he does say, I agree with," Biden said. But he also said that Dean "has views that are slightly different than mine .. .But look, he's a lightning rod. ... It's probably good that there's a guy out there that's a lightning rod ... ."
Biden, however, added that he thinks "the rhetoric is counterproductive."
"I think this country has a purple heart, not a red heart or a blue heart," Biden said. "If we can't bring this [country] together, man, boy, we're really in deep trouble."