ABC’s Steven Portnoy reports: As the White House struggles to clarify the administration’s position on a “public option,” the chairman of the Republican National Committee says Democrats are seeing the health care debate “moving beneath their feet.”
“I think we're in a very confused space right now,” Michael Steele told ABC News Radio in an interview Tuesday. “The Democrats are feeling the pressure within, as well as without, more than anything else.” The confusion -- and subsequent angst – within the Democratic caucus over the president’s position on a government-run health insurance plan has clearly knocked the Democrats off balance, Steele said. “I think the political landscape is moving beneath their feet,” Steele said. “They don't quite know what to make of it, or what to do with it.”
Since Congress broke for the August recess, the White House has spent weeks trying to dispel what it calls “misinformation” about the Democrats’ health care reform effort. At a town hall-style meeting in Portsmouth, NH – one of three the White House scheduled last week to regain message momentum – President Obama said opponents have created “boogeymen” to scare voters about the reform proposals. Steele angrily denies his party is worthy of the criticism.
“Don't sit there and point your finger at Republicans, and say we're in the way. How are we in the way?” Steele inquired. “Asking questions? Speaking truth to power? When [Democrats] get in trouble, they look for demagogues and demons. We're not gonna be the boogeymen in this,” Steele said. Noting the majorities the Democrats have in both houses of Congress, Steele called himself “a little innocent bystander in all this thing.”
“How many votes do I have in the Senate, Mr. President? How many votes do I have in the House?” Steele asked. “I control nothing, sir. You've got it all. It's all yours. If you want the bill passed, pass it!… You've got the votes -- pull the trigger!”
The Republican chairman said he’s not concerned about the level of vitriol that’s been expressed at town hall meetings held by members of congress this month.
“I wasn't around in the 1800s and the 1700s, but I'm a student of history and politics, and I know what those political squabbles, if you will, were like – a lot more violent, if you will. People were dueling and all kinds of other things going on in those days.”
“If you don't like the heat, get out of the kitchen,” Steele said. “And the reality of it right now is that the American people are bringing heat to the table.“
“The American people are taking control of this debate, as they should, and God bless 'em for doing it.”