MSNBC’s O’Donnell: Steele Speech Like A ‘Bad Hallmark Card’

Norah O'Donnell, MSNBC Reacting to a speech by Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele during Tuesday’s 3:00 EST hour on MSNBC, anchor Norah O’Donnell declared: "In case you missed it, we compiled the greatest and the best of Michael Steele. Some people said that a lot of the cliches he used in his speech you could string them together and it would make a bad Hallmark card." An edited clip of Steele’s speech was played, highlighting his calls for Republicans to turn the corner.

A laughing O’Donnell turned to Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons and Republican strategist Phil Musser to discuss the future of the GOP: "Alright, Phil, did you get the point that the honeymoon is over, the navel-gazing is done? There was a lot of this emphasis on turning the page, which is all well and good, but there was no prescription for change in what the Republican Party's going to do. Isn't that a problem?" Musser shot back: "Well, I think Michael Steele is making an important point that you can only be on defense for so long, and with all due respect to your setup, which keeps us on defense, you know, that I think that the Republican Party has acknowledged their sin, certainly paid the measure of price for it and are now in the process of moving forward with proactive ideas."

Not satisfied with mocking Steele, O’Donnell next decided to accuse him of going after President Obama’s children: "Well, let me ask, is moving forward -- does moving forward, including essentially using the President's own children, Malia and Sasha, as part of a political argument? I mean, listen to what he said today." A clip was played of Steele criticizing Obama for revoking funding for the Washington D.C. school voucher program: "While the President sends his kids to a private school, he is at the very same time taking away opportunity scholarships from poor Hispanic and African-American kids right here in our nation's capital."

Rather than debate the issue of whether the President was being hypocritical by sending his children to private school while denying other D.C. parents the same choice, O’Donnell turned to Simmons and asked: "Jamal, I mean, shouldn't the President's kids be off limits? Why do you need to use his kids in order to make the argument about charter schools?" Simmons replied: "They absolutely should be off limits. Except for making fun of Jenna Bush sticking her tongue out back in the Bush years, Democrats pretty much left President Bush's daughters alone."

Later, O’Donnell opened up yet another line of attack against Steele, citing a Washington Times article that reported that Steele was paying RNC staffers substantially more than their predecessors: "...on a day that clearly the Chairman is trying to turn the page and he's saying 'everybody, let's start fresh,' I think what he's trying to do. There's a story in the Washington Times...It says this, quote, 'Steele brought along long-time,' this is about his staff and questions about salaries, 'Steele brought along long-time personal assistant Belinda Cook and gave her a salary nearly three times what her predecessor made."

O’Donnell then asked Musser: "Doesn't that kind of -- I mean he criticized the President for profligate spending and it looks like he's got huge salaries at the RNC." Musser pointed out the absurdity of the comparison: "Look, you can't compare the spending that's going on in the Obama administration to a couple of staff salaries that are disclosed, you know, publically at the RNC."

Here is the full transcript of the segment:

3:34PM SEGMENT:

NORAH O'DONNELL: And RNC Chairman Michael Steele says the nation needs the Republican Party now more than ever. But without a clear leader, has the Grand Old Party really turned a page, as Michael Steele suggests? Well, let's bring in Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons and Phil Musser, Republican strategist and former executive director of the Republican Governors Association. Alright, welcome to both of you.

PHIL MUSSER: Hi, Norah.

O'DONNELL: In case you missed it, we compiled the greatest and the best of Michael Steele. Some people said that a lot of the cliches he used in his speech you could string them together and it would make a bad Hallmark card. Listen.

MICHAEL STEELE: We're going to take the President head-on. The honeymoon is over... I have news for them. We are not going to be silent. We're going to speak up and we're going to show that we have the courage of our convictions... We are declaring an end to the era of Republicans looking backwards... the era of Republican navel-gazing, done... Introspection, ladies and gentlemen, is now over. The corner has been turned... You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong... We are going to speak truth to power.

O'DONNELL [LAUGHING]: Alright, Phil, did you get the point that the honeymoon is over, the navel-gazing is done? There was a lot of this emphasis on turning the page, which is all well and good, but there was no prescription for change in what the Republican Party's going to do. Isn't that a problem?

PHIL MUSSER: Well, I think Michael Steele is making an important point that you can only be on defense for so long, and with all due respect to your setup, which keeps us on defense, you know, that I think that the Republican Party has acknowledged their sin, certainly paid the measure of price for it and are now in the process of moving forward with proactive ideas. And Michael Steele's job is to help get that messaging environment more focused and move that debate forward, and that's what he's trying to do today. And it was received pretty well by the RNC members, it may not be on TV-

O'DONNELL: Well, let me ask, is moving forward -- does moving forward, including essentially using the President's own children, Malia and Sasha, as part of a political argument? I mean, listen to what he said today.

STEELE: While the President sends his kids to a private school, he is at the very same time taking away opportunity scholarships from poor Hispanic and African-American kids right here in our nation's capital.

O'DONNELL: Jamal, I mean, shouldn't the President's kids be off limits? Why do you need to use his kids in order to make the argument about charter schools?

JAMAL SIMMONS: They absolutely should be off limits. Except for making fun of Jenna Bush sticking her tongue out back in the Bush years, Democrats pretty much left President Bush's daughters alone. The real problem here, Phil, is you can't beat something with nothing, and right now the Republicans aren't offering the country anything positive about where they want to take the country and what they want to do. Even when you take a look at the upcoming Supreme Court fight, what you have are Republican Senators, and the Republican Party, already organizing against prospective Democratic candidates to oppose them. But we don't even know who the name is yet, they're already ready to say no. You've got to have something positive to offer.

MUSSER: Yeah, I'm not sure that's totally true. I think that the -- I think the rebirth of the Republican Party is starting to happen in the states. I mean, take what Tim Pawlenty's doing today in Minnesota, okay. He vetoed about $2 billion in new DFL proposed taxes last week and he sent the DFL legislature home, essentially, and he's going to balance the budget and constitutionally meet his responsibilities in Minnesota. It's a model for leadership that Republicans nationwide need to emulate. And also look at Mitch Daniels in Indiana -- what I'm saying is-

SIMMONS: Your model for leadership was a veto-

MUSSER: No, my-

SIMMONS: -not a proposal. Where's the policy about how to move the country forward, get us out of the ditch that George Bush put us in?

MUSSER: Well look, I mean, the bottom line is the Democrats are in power a part of what he's saying here is that a two-party -- Michael Steele is saying -- is that a two-party system is healthy, Jamal, because we need to be an organized loyal opposition. You guys are the running the show here. This is now your turn, okay. George Bush is gone. You cannot run against him anymore-

SIMMONS: Americans want you guys to offer solutions.

MUSSER: And so what -- and so what -- what Michael Steele is saying is it's time to take that playbook and look forward and be -- and be loyal and respectful in that opposition

O'DONNELL: Let me ask you on a day that clearly the Chairman is trying to turn the page and he's saying 'everybody, let's start fresh,' I think what he's trying to do. There's a story in the Washington Times, this is not the New York Times, this is the Washington Post [Times]. And let me read from it, It says this, quote, 'Steele brought along long-time,' this is about his staff and questions about salaries, 'Steele brought along long-time personal assistant Belinda Cook and gave her a salary nearly three times what her predecessor made. Cook's son also landed a job at the RNC. Steele hired another family friend, Angela Sailor, to be the Party's outreach director to a salary of $180,000, more than double her predecessor's compensation.' Phil, I had Senator Inhofe on here to talk about -- about not closing down Gitmo, but then I asked him about this story. He said he hadn't seen, he said 'if that's true I'm going to look it up. That's a real problem and we're going to end it.' Doesn't that kind of -- I mean he criticized the President for profligate spending and it looks like he's got huge salaries at the RNC.

MUSSER: Look, you can't compare the spending that's going on in the Obama administration to a couple of staff salaries that are disclosed, you know, publically at the RNC. I have no idea about the specifics of this matter. I'll talk about Angela Sailor, someone that I know and have a lot of respect for, she's got a huge portfolio that centrally focused at addressing one of the principle challenges the Republican Party faces, how do we-

O'DONNELL: $180,000?

MUSSER: Worth every penny, okay. How about reaching out to the Hispanic community, reaching out more -- with a more cohesive message -- to the African-American community. Angela is spear-heading one of the kind of central efforts of coalitions outreach that is a hallmark of Michael Steele's campaign. You pay for good talent.

SIMMONS: Look, Angela Sailor's a wonderful woman. I've known her for many years. But let me just tell you, I worked at the Democratic National Committee. If I was getting $180,000 I would have probably never left.

[LAUGHTER]

MUSSER: I made $21,000 when I worked at the RNC-

O'DONNELL: Exactly.

MUSSER: Look, I'm going to defend -- I'm going to defend-

O'DONNELL: Well, let me just-

SIMMONS: But let's get to one more issue, Newt Gingrich is back. Newt Gingrich joins up with this new group today and we find out the faces of the Republican Party right now are Dick Cheney and Newt Gingrich. Michael Steele is not the face of the party.

O'DONNELL: Let me just show you quickly, let me just show you something, can we get this up there, the Gallup poll that shows the Republican support shrank among nearly all major subgroups in the last ten years. College graduates, down 10%. Down 9% among 18 to 29-year-olds, Midwest voters, moderate Republicans, and those earning between $30 and $75,000 a year. Phil, are you concerned about Republican shrinkage?

MUSSER: Yes, I am concerned about Republican shrinkage. I think any Republican with a right mind on their head has to be concerned about it, but also needs to understand the historical tides in this country and understands that we're fundamentally a center, center right country, and over time I believe that we are going to be able to kind of come back against that grain as Obama overreaches to the left and fundamentally the balance will shift. But, you know, are there-

SIMMONS: So you're betting on failure.

MUSSER: Are there -- are there-

SIMMONS: You're betting on failure.

MUSSER: I'm not betting -- I'm betting that the big government solution, which is essentially mortgaging the future of our country by borrowing and spending and taxing, you know, as far as the eye can see-

SIMMONS: Give us something to be for, okay.

MUSSER: -it's going to be an overreach.

SIMMONS: Give us something -- if you give Americans something to be for-

MUSSER: But I-

O'DONNELL: Guys, I've got to wrap this up. It was a great discussion guys, but I got to wrap it. Jamal Simmons and Phil Musser, great discussion.

MUSSER: I'll be for something next time, how about that Jamal?

SIMMONS: Okay.

MUSSER: Alright, man.

O'DONNELL: Thanks guys, I appreciate it.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC