Former Sen. Phil Gramm on Friday stepped down as a co-chairman of Sen. John McCain‘s presidential campaign, saying he had become too much of a distraction after calling America a “nation of whiners” in an interview with The Washington Times last week.
“It is clear to me that Democrats want to attack me rather than debate Senator McCain on important economic issues facing the country,” Mr. Gramm, a former Republicansenator from Texas, said in a statement released by the McCain campaign Friday night. “That kind of distraction hurts not only Senator McCain’s ability to present concrete programs to deal with the country’s problems, it hurts the country.”
“To end this distraction and get on with the real debate, I hereby step down as co-chair of the McCain Campaign and join the growing number of rank-and-file McCain supporters,” Mr. Gramm said.
It was not clear whether he would still offer unofficial advice to the campaign.
Mr. Gramm, who is vice chairman of Swiss bank UBS, last week told The Times that the fundamentals of the economy are good and the problems Americans were experiencing were only in their heads.
“You’ve heard of mental depression; this is a mental recession,” he said, noting that growth has held up at about 1 percent despite all the publicity over losing jobs to India, China, illegal immigration, housing and credit problems and record oil prices. “We may have a recession; we haven’t had one yet.”
“We have sort of become a nation of whiners,” he said.
The remarks became a target for criticism by Sen. Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee, and his party, which argued the comments were indicative of a “Bush-Gramm-McCain” mindset.
“The question for John McCain isn’t whether Phil Gramm will continue as chairman of his campaign, but whether he will continue to keep the economic plan that Gramm authored and that represents a continuation of the polices that have failed American families for the last eight years,” Obama campaign spokesman Hari Sevugan said Friday night
Mr. McCain repudiated the comments and joked that Mr. Gramm had talked himself out of a position as Treasury secretary and into a job as ambassador to Belarus.
But with the economy shaping up as a major campaign issue, Democrats hammered away, and early Friday a report by columnist Robert Novak that Mr. Gramm was back in good graces with the campaign set off another round of criticism.
“Senator McCain’s economic plan gives nearly $4 billion in tax breaks to the oil companies but doesn’t provide any tax relief to more than 100 million middle-class families. But that shouldn’t come as a surprise since today we learned that Phil Gramm will continue to advise Senator McCain on economic policy despite calling Americans struggling in this economy ‘whiners,’ ” Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor said Friday morning.
Mr. Gramm has been a key surrogate for Mr. McCain, including standing in for him at the Iowa caucuses in January and lending his strong conservative credentials to Mr. McCain’s bid.