Despite numerous calls for his resignation over comments made criticizing the war effort in Afghanistan, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele will not step down, RNC spokesman Doug Heye confirmed Tuesday.
Steele will stay on as the head of the committee amid criticism from Senate Republicans who took to the airwaves over the weekend to condemn his comments that the war in Afghanistan could not be won. Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Jim DeMint and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina appeared on the Sunday talk shows to discuss the chairman’s fate as leader of the Republican Party.
Appearing on ABC’s This Week on a live feed from Kabul, McCain called Steele’s comments “wildly inaccurate” but stopped short of saying he should resign.
“[Steele] is going to have to assess as to whether he can still lead the Republican Party as chairman of the Republican National Committee and make an appropriate decision,” McCain said.
While traveling with McCain in Afghanistan, Graham called Steele’s remarks an “uninformed, unnecessary, unwise, untimely comment” during an interview with Face the Nation on CBS.
“This is not President Obama’s war; this is America’s war,” he said.
On Fox News Sunday, DeMint echoed Graham’s comments about the war not being the sole responsibility of President Obama, and said Steele must apologize and get back to focusing on his job: getting Republicans elected.
“He needs to refocus on electing candidates who can stop this rampage of spending and debt in Washington — whether or not he resigns is up to other people than me, but I need to see him focus on this November election,” he said.
Although a number of influential conservatives have called for the chairman to step down, including Weekly Standard editor William Kristol and former deputy assistant secretary of state Elizabeth Cheney, only one member of Congress has taken that step. Rep. Tom Cole, Oklahoma Republican, called Steele’s remarks “totally unacceptable” and called on the RNC chairman to “apologize and resign.”
“He undercut American forces fighting in the field, politicized further a war that two presidents of different parties have deemed in the national interest and embarrassed the party he purports to lead,” he said in a statement Monday. “It is time for him to go — quickly.”
But one elected member of Congress, however, took the weekend to defend Steele and his comments about Afghanistan. Texas Republican Ron Paul, former presidential candidate and fierce critic of the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan, said Steele “should not resign” and that his assessment of the situation was correct.
“He is absolutely right — Afghanistan is now Obama’s war,” Paul said in a written statement Sunday. “During the 2008 campaign, Obama was out in front in insisting that more troops be sent to Afghanistan. Obama called for expanding the war even as he pretended to be a peace candidate.”
All of this comment occurred despite Steele’s attempt to clarify his remarks shortly after the video was released. In a statement released shortly after the video appeared online last week, Steele said that “[t]here is no question that America must win the war on terror.”
“As we have learned throughout history, winning a war in Afghanistan is a difficult task. We must also remember that after the tragedy of September 11, 2001, it is also a necessary one,” he said. “The stakes are too high for us to accept anything but success in Afghanistan.”
The controversy began when an online video emerged of Steele addressing a crowd at a Connecticut fundraiser last Thursday. Steele suggested that the war in Afghanistan was not winnable and criticized President Obama for increasing the level of American resources to the region.
“This was a war of Obama’s choosing. This is not something the United States has actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in,” Steele said of Afghanistan. “Well if he’s such a student of history, has he not understood that, you know, that’s the one thing you don’t do is engage in a land war in Afghanistan? All right? Because everyone who has tried over a thousand years of history has failed,” he added later.