Republican National Committee Chief of Staff Ken McKay, frustrated with inaction by his boss, has resigned and will be replaced by Mike Leavitt, a former campaign aide to embattled RNC Chairman Michael S. Steele, The Washington Times has learned.
Wealthy veteran RNC fundraiser Sam Fox, unhappy with the negative publicity the RNC has received under Mr. Steele’s command, has also resigned as the top volunteer for the RNC’s major donor fundraising program, The Times has learned.
The twin blows to Mr. Steele came Monday, the same day he said in an interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America” that his race was at least in part the motivation for the virtually unrelenting criticism he has received from fellow Republicans, including some of the most respected former national party leaders.
Also Monday, Republicans on his national committee, including a staunch Steele defender, disputed his assertion that he and President Obama suffer from a double standard - a higher performance bar - because they both are black.
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The frustration within the RNC over Mr. Steele’s management reached a crescendo when he did not fire RNC Finance Director Rob Bickhart for having authorized a female employee - who has since been fired - to forge his signature on a reimbursement request for nearly $2,000 for entertaining donors at a sex-themed Los Angeles nightclub, several current and former party officials confided to The Times on Monday.
Other RNC members said Mr. Steele’s playing the race card in a television interview Monday failed to achieve its desired intent of deflecting some of the criticism of his lax financial management and his use for personal gain of his elected post, which pays $223,500 in salary and unlimited expenses.
These RNC members said Mr. Steele’s race remarks actually served to deflect the heat Republicans are applying to Mr. Obama and his policies, while polls show those policies are meeting disapproval from a majority of Americans.
“No, the bar is not higher and if Michael Steele thinks that was what the brouhaha was about, he is wrong,” Alaska Republican National Committee member Debbie Joslin told The Times.
Asked by host George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “Good Morning America” Monday whether race is the reason that he gets hit with almost daily criticism by his own party, Mr. Steele replied, “The honest answer is, ‘yes.’ Barack Obama has a slimmer margin. A lot of folks do. It’s a different role for me to play and others to play and that’s just the reality of it. But you take that as part of the nature of it.”
Iowa RNC member Steve Scheffler told The Times that he thinks Mr. Steele’s claim is out of line.
“I do not think criticism of either Obama or Steele - whether someone thinks the criticism is justified or not - is racially based,” said Mr. Scheffler. “A good example of that is when Obama won the Iowa caucuses in a convincing manner in spite of the fact that Iowa’s African-American population is under 3 percent.”
Some Republicans have called on Mr. Steele to vacate his post. On Monday, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who has been mentioned as a 2012 Republican presidential candidate, said Mr. Steele should be ousted as chairman.
“As a leader, you set the tone for your organization,” Mr. Santorum was quoted as saying in Politico. “If somebody who worked for my organization did something like this, they would be out of a job.”
Still, some say the criticism is unjustified.
“I don’t think race has anything has to do with it,” said Maryland RNC member Louis Pope. “But the criticism of him recently is not justified. I think the RNC has run quite efficiently under Michael Steele.”
Three of his predecessors broke precedent in December by allowing themselves to be quoted by The Times that they thought it was wrong for Mr. Steele to use the chairmanship for personal financial gain through paid speeches and sales of a book he wrote as chairman.
They said it was wrong for Mr. Steele to say on “Good Morning America” Monday that he and Mr. Obama have had the bar set higher for both of them because they are black.
“Those former chairmen were not being racist, they were being honest,” Mrs. Joslin told The Times. “He is not being held to a higher standard than previous chairmen. Note that those criticisms are about specific actions, not about his ‘race’ or color.”
Mrs. Joslin wrote: “Any criticism I have of Michael Steele will be based on his job performance, not his color. Barack Obama’s job performance is abysmal and I would say that if he were white or if he were pink with purple polka dots, and pink is my favorite color.”
Mr. Scheffler said, “The bottom line is that when Steele makes comments like that about race, it takes away from the criticism of Obama - it really detracts from what we’re trying to say about Obama leading us down the road to socialism.”
Some RNC members said their chairman was wrong about racial motivation in the first place.
No national chairman of either party in memory has directly and publicly criticized the sitting chairman of his own party. But in December, former RNC Chairman Jim Nicholson, who served in that position from 1997 to 2000 and was President Bush’s veterans affairs secretary from 2005 to 2007, told The Times that the national chairman’s job “demands so much of your time that you can work 24/7 and not get everything done, so taking time out to speak for the benefit of one’s own bank account is not appropriate.”
Former RNC Chairmen Frank J. Fahrenkopf and Rich Bond, in an interview with The Times, also castigated Mr. Steele for his behavior as chairman.
Mr. Steele on Monday again refused to resign and, again, told the national party to fire him if it dared. Also, Mr. Steele again accused former chairmen of having taken money from outside sources during their time in office.
Republicans who aren’t die-hard defenders of Mr. Steele say a double-standard is being applied, but to the benefit, not detriment, of Mr. Steele and Mr. Obama, and that in Mr. Steele’s case he would have been cashiered long ago but for the lack of enthusiasm for ousting the first black chairman for the party that ended slavery in the United States.
“Mr. Obama and Mr. Steele are not so much playing the race card as folks are not holding them to the same standard one would expect of others in the same position,” Ada M. Fisher, a black physician and RNC member from North Carolina, told The Times.
Republicans have expressed astonishment over what some have characterized as lavish spending on Mr. Steele’s watch, including the nearly $2,000 on entertainment at the nightclub in Los Angeles and historically large travel and hotel bills for him and the large retinue of aides that accompanies him. What might under previous chairmen have been chalked up to an honest mistake last week became part of the montage on perceived incompetence at the RNC’s Capitol Hill headquarters after a fundraising letter was sent asking potential donors to call what turned out to be a phone-sex-for-pay number.
Before the nightclub expense reimbursement and the phone-sex mistake, Mr. Steele, in an interview in the February Washingtonian magazine, played the race card, saying, “I don’t see stories about internal operations of the [Democratic National Committee] that I see about this operation. Why? Is it because Michael Steele is the chairman, or is it because a black man is chairman?”