NBC's Vieira to Michael Steele: Is Cheney 'Hurting' Republicans?

Meredith Vieira peppered RNC chair Michael Steele, on Tuesday's Today show, with a line of questioning that made the GOP out to be "partisan" in its criticisms of Obama's national security policies and questioned recent comments by Dick Cheney's were "hurting the Republicans."

Vieira began the interview by questioning if a Peter Hoekstra fundraising letter was an example of the GOP playing politics with terrorism, even reciting the Democratic spin, as if the Democrats never raised money with that issue during the Bush years:

MEREDITH VIEIRA: You know the Republicans have been pretty critical of President Obama's handling of this attempted terror bombing on Christmas Day. Republican Congressman Peter Hoekstra, though, took it one step further. He's running for governor of Michigan. He sends out a fundraising letter. I want to read to you part of it. He says in this letter, "If you agree we need a governor who will stand up to the Obama/Pelosi efforts to weaken our security, please make a most generous contribution of $25, $50, $100 or even $250 to my campaign." Democrats immediately shot back, "This is playing politics with our national security." Do you see this terrorism incident as a partisan issue or is it fair game for the Republicans to say that the Democrats are less concerned with Americans' safety than the Republicans are?

While Vieira did allow that perhaps the topic could be "fair game," she attempted to pry Steele to say something negative about the former Vice President as she pushed: "Is Cheney actually hurting the Republicans more than helping them..."

The following is the full interview with Steele as it was aired on the January 5 Today show:

MEREDITH VIEIRA: Michael Steele is the chairman of the Republican National Committee and author of the new book Right Now: A 12-Step Program for Defeating the Obama Agenda. Mr. Steele, good morning to you.

[On screen headline: "Targeting Terrorists, Should GOP Blame Obama For Security Failures?"]

MICHAEL STEELE: Good morning.

VIEIRA: You know the Republicans have been pretty critical of President Obama's handling of this attempted terror bombing on Christmas Day. Republican Congressman Peter Hoekstra, though, took it one step further. He's running for governor of Michigan. He sends out a fundraising letter. I want to read to you part of it. He says in this letter, "If you agree we need a governor who will stand up to the Obama/Pelosi efforts to weaken our security, please make a most generous contribution of $25, $50, $100 or even $250 to my campaign." Democrats immediately shot back, "This is playing politics with our national security." Do you see this terrorism incident as a partisan issue or is it fair game for the Republicans to say that the Democrats are less concerned with Americans' safety than the Republicans are?

STEELE: Well, I don't think it's a question of saying one way or the other who's more or less concerned. What it is, is looking at the approach the administration has taken from its very first moments coming in, talking about, you know, closing down Gitmo with no strategy or plan to do that, and here we are a year later and Gitmo's still a part of the mix. Now with this recent incident, given everything in between, there is this image, at least, that's been created, this, this presence of the presidency and so forth that is not consistent in their approach to foreign policy and there are a lot of questions out there. And what I try to do in my book for Republicans is to say, let's talk about these issues in the context of our core principles and those things that we believe are going to be fundamental to helping America move forward to, to, on the economy and on a lot of issues, including national security.

VIEIRA: Well you know, one of his biggest opponents right now or one of the biggest critics of the President is former Vice President Dick Cheney, and he has suggested the President is quote, "Trying to pretend that we are not at war with terrorists," and because of that, he is making us less safe. But the New York Times reports that at least a dozen former top Bush officials involved in counterterrorism, say as far as they're concerned, they pretty much agree with Obama's policy. So is, is Cheney actually hurting the Republicans more than helping them when he makes these statements?

STEELE: No I don't think, no I think, I think the Vice President has, has made it very clear and I think he's been very consistent and correct in saying that the inconsistency in, in the Obama administration's approach to foreign policy, particularly with respect to terrorism is a concern. If you can't, if you can't call a thing what-

VIEIRA: But if you don't say "war on terror," does that mean you're not concerned about terrorism?

STEELE: But if you can't, that's the point. If you can't call a thing what it is, then there's a question about what do you think it is? You, you can't look at this as, as a, as an intervention. You can't look at this as dealing with criminals as you would the guy who robbed the 7-11, you know, where you're trying to hijack a plane or bomb a plane or something like that.

VIEIRA: But is it a matter of semantics, Mr. Steele?

STEELE: No it's not. No, the American people-

VIEIRA: He says it's a war on al Qaeda, war on terrorism. Terrorism is a tactic and that's why he doesn't use that word.

STEELE: I think the American people know full well what it is, they view it as a war against terrorism. They view a terrorist as a terrorist, not a criminal who is subject to the same Constitutional privileges and rights that you and I are? You've got to be kidding me. So when you have this as the landscape on which we're conducting foreign policy, Dick Cheney and others, whether they're former Bush administration officials or not, everyone's taking a look at this from a very critical eye. My job and my role is to get the party prepared from the bottom all the way up to the top, to go out and engage on these, on these issues, understanding how they affect us principally.

VIEIRA: But even, but even in your book you say, and you say it right in the beginning about your party, "We screwed up."

STEELE: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And-

VIEIRA: And "We don't really have the support of the American people right now."

STEELE: Because we moved away from those fundamental principles that have defined us for generations, those things that anchored us, whether you're talking about national security or the economy or health care, whatever the issue is. When you move away from those principles about the role of government, the role and responsibility of individuals to create wealth in this economy, not the government, that's when you get on the slippery slopes that we've been on the last year, that's when you lose elections, as we have done since 2006. Now we have a time to refocus our energies and re-anchor ourselves in those principles and move forward, and those within the party and outside the party who don't adhere to that, then do something else.

VIEIRA: Are you gonna make the midterm elections, the Republican Party, is gonna make the midterm elections a referendum on the President?

STEELE: Absolutely they are. You know at some point this administration has to take responsibility for what it's doing and has to take responsibility for its decisions. They are having an impact, whether domestically or internationally, and you've got to account for it, and this is that, one of those, those break points where you stop and assess how is the administration doing and how are the members of his party, as it, as it was under Bush and as it was under Reagan and others, how are they performing and what are they doing to protect us, allow us to grow our economy and allow us to live free without as much government interference as they're giving us.

VIEIRA: You know, you're one year into your two-year term. A lot of people thought you'd be toast by now.

STEELE: Of course!

VIEIRA: What happened?

STEELE: Well the brother is still here, kicking, you know?

VIEIRA: Brother is still here.

STEELE: Yeah.

VIEIRA: Alright. Thank you so much. Pleasure to see you Mr. Chairman.

STEELE: Thank you.

Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center.