Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele has called Sen. Arlen Specter's switch to the Democratic Party "a purely political and self-serving act."
Steele said the move "handed Barack Obama and his band of radical leftists nearly absolute power in the United States Senate."
Steele talks about Specter's switch with NPR's Robert Siegel. A transcript follows:
Robert Siegel: Arlen Specter speaks of winning election to the Senate in 1980 — the year of Ronald Reagan — in the big-tent Republican Party. Is it fair to say that today's Republican Party is actually narrower and much more conservative than the GOP of the Reagan era?
Michael Steele: The party is not narrower; it certainly is a conservative party — there is no doubt about that — but we are still a big-tent party. We welcome and — very much welcome — folks to join us in our efforts to empower families and communities, wealth-creation opportunities, you know, low taxes, less government interference in one's business and one's lives. Those principles still stand very strong. So there's been no change from 1980 or 1964 or 1856.
But here's one measure though of comparing what's happened. In the e-mail you sent out today you speak of Arlen Specter's left-wing voting record. Yesterday, Amy Walter, the editor-in-chief of The Hotline, told the PBS NewsHour — she said, "I went back and looked at Specter's 2008 voting record. Gordon Smith of Oregon, Ted Stevens of Alaska, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, John Warner of Virginia, were the only Republicans who voted as moderately as he did. None of those Republicans are left in the Senate.
Is that a group of left-wingers who are not in the Senate? Are they to the left of your Republican Party today?
Well, I think, you know, the point is they are to the left on some very critical issues that are fundamental to some of our core beliefs, and I think you've seen that played out this past year and certainly in the last few months with the stimulus vote. I mean, that was a vote that really struck a raw nerve with a lot of Republicans around the country, so —
But when you speak of "Barack Obama and his band of radical leftists" — your words — he now enjoys approval ratings in the high 60s. There are tea parties.
That doesn't mean that he still doesn't have a band of radicals in Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. Look, you know, there is no doubt that the president has popularity. His policies, however, do not share that same lofty number. No one in the party likes to lose a member — particularly an elected member. I think at the same time, Arlen Specter made a calculation that focused on his self-preservation and interest as a United States senator. He saw, and he's admitted: I could not get elected, reelected — make it through a primary and get elected in the fall of next year. So he made that calculation.
He thinks he can get elected; but he couldn't get through the Republican primary is what he said.
No, he couldn't get elected. The base wouldn't have been there.
This is what the Republican senator for Maine, Olympia Snowe, told our reporter David Welna:
(Begin audio clip.)
Snowe: Statements that are coming nationally from the Republican Party — I mean, I think it just helps to nurture a culture of exclusion and alienation. And I really think this is the time for the Republican Party to reevaluate and redefine the party.
(End audio clip.)
You are one of those who has been making the national statements.
Sure. I'm not going to mourn the loss of Arlen Specter. Sorry. That's just not happening. And I'm not going to sit here and go, "Oh gee, I'm so sorry to see you go. I'm so sorry that you're leaving." This is a conscious political decision that he's made for his self-interest. It has nothing to do with philosophy. I mean, look, this party bent over backward to get him re-elected in 2004. Leaders in this party went out on a limb. They went out on a limb this year.
I mean, you talk about the national voice that's, you know, divisive and not building consensus. The Senate leadership built a consensus around this man's re-election. And what did he do? He flipped them the bird. He thumbed his nose at them and said: Oh, now I find that in my heart and my soul, I'm philosophically a Democrat. Give me a break. I'm sorry. I'm not shedding any tears here, folks. And I'm not being divisive; I'm being realistic.
By the way, is the tent still big enough to accommodate pro-choice Republicans?
Yeah, sure, why not? Look, I'm not going to stand at the door with a little checklist and say, well, you can be a Republican and you can't. I welcome everyone to this party. But understand, it's like — you know, when I come to your house for dinner, all right, and I sit down at your table, what do you think of me when I look at your wife or look at you and go, "You know, this is a nice meal but I would have preferred chicken. And if you could take this plate off, I think I'd like a different type of china." It is what you serve.
Well, but what you're suggesting, the analogy — to belabor it a little bit — is you're saying the people throwing the party, the hosts, are pro-life. And the other people are their guests, is what you're saying.
And well, it's not just that they're our guests. It's just that you're welcome into their house but understand, you know, when you come in that there's some core principles and values. And it's not just pro-values and pro-family; we're talking about pro-markets. We're pro-business. We're talking about the empowerment of individuals to take ownership and keep more of their hard-earned money. And if those things matter more to you than what we see unfolding right now with this administration, you're welcome to come here.
As Ronald Reagan said very clearly, if you're with me 80 percent of the time, you know, I think we don't have to focus on the 20 percent. I'm not going to beat you up over that because then that's not helping us build the party or create greater opportunities across the country. So we are a party that has always stood, first and foremost, for individual freedoms and prosperity. And we will remain such.