WASHINGTON – Republican Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman on Thursday challenged his GOP brethren to work with Democrats and independents to defeat terrorism and solve the country's problems, a call for bipartisanship at a time of intense political polarization.
"Let's work to put aside our differences on other issues and march together to defeat this common enemy, who threatens our common values — values that aren't red or blue, but red, white and blue," Mehlman said in remarks he planned to deliver at the Republican National Committee's winter meeting.
"This doesn't mean we abandon our philosophy. But on many issues, we should follow the example of leaders like Ronald Reagan, and think broadly about how to work more with Democrats and independents to accomplish our mission," he said.
The remarks, in Mehlman's final major speech as party chairman, were a nod to the new reality on Capitol Hill — Democrats in charge of both the House and Senate while Republicans continue to control the White House, a potential recipe for legislative gridlock.
"Americans want us to try to work in a bipartisan way to solve problems," Mehlman said, adding that challenges facing the country don't just affect one party.
He said Republicans can reach across the aisle to tackle issues such as immigration reform that "maintains America as a nation of laws and a welcoming nation for immigrants"; eliminating the deficit; curbing entitlement spending; and achieving universal health care coverage while controlling costs.
"Of course, there is still much about the Democrats that we disagree with," he said. "But when we do disagree, let us do so remembering that our political opponents are not our enemies."
Mehlman steps down Friday after a two-year stint as chairman and will be succeeded by Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., and Mike Duncan, the RNC's current general counsel. The two will share the chairmanship duties.
The RNC is expected to vote on the duo — the White House's preferred successors to Mehlman — on Friday.
Approval is expected, although roughly a dozen RNC members plan to vote against Martinez — a Cuban-American — because he supports not only stronger border security but also an eventual path to citizenship for some of the millions of immigrants living in the United States illegally.