One of the Senate's most soft-spoken members, Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), unleashed a little pent-up frustration on Monday, telling reporters that RNC Chairman Michael Steele was redefining the term obnoxious with his latest histrionics.
On Monday morning, Steele held a conference call with reporters in which he called Democratic Senators crafting health care reform "cowards" who are "flipping the bird" to the American public. Harkin, along with a host of other Democrats, were asked about the remarks during a press conference touting the American Medical Association's endorsement of their bill.
Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) deemed Steele's comments crass and inappropriate for "someone who has the title Mr. Steele has." But Harkin, standing off to the side, was seen rolling his eyes as he whispered into the ear of Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.)
Asked after the event why he seemed surprised by what Steele had to say, the Iowa Democrat replied.
"I didn't seem surprised. It is not the first obnoxious thing he said. I mean, the guy gives new definition to the word obnoxious. You know. He says outrageous things."
A small grin entered Harkin's face. At which point his press handler declared: "Thanks everyone" while pulling the senator away from the pool of reporters.
Steele: Dems Are Cowards, 'Flipping The Bird' To The Public
With health care reform poised to pass the Senate on a party-line vote, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele ratcheted up the rhetoric on Monday, accusing Democrats of acting like cowards and "flipping the bird" to the American public.
Speaking hours after Senate Democrats cleared the first of three major procedural hurdles in passing their version of reform, Steele insisted that what was being witnessed in that chamber was nothing short of "a wholesale hijacking of the health care system in our country."
And he insisted that the GOP's obstructionist efforts were not the reason for the odd scheduling of the first vote at 1:00 a.m. on early Monday morning. "Bad policy is bad policy," he said. "If it stinks, you know it." Rather, the timing of the vote spoke to the "cowardice reflected of this leadership in the Senate and quite frankly Democrats across the country who dare not look the American people in the eye on this issue."
Steele emphasized that he will continue to work with Republican leadership in both the House and Senate to help defeat the legislation, with better prospects (admittedly) in the Senate, where a single Democratic defection could derail the process.
"There won't be a legitimate conference [between the House and the Senate]. Nancy Pelosi is going to capitulate on this. And the House members are going to have to live with it... and that ought to be fascinating to watch. The reality is [Chief of Staff] Rahm Emanuel and the White House from the West Wing are driving this process."
"I'm tired of Congress thumbing their nose and flipping the bird to the American people," he added.
The RNC chairman also pledged strong political and electoral pushback against those conservative Democrats who supported the bill, saying that Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and the senators he corralled should "look for the pink slip come next year." Discussing those Democrats who would vote to break up a Republican filibuster but might oppose the health care legislation when it comes to an up-or-down vote, Steele was even more incredulous.
"The ultimate act of cowardice for me is to sit there and say I voted for it before I voted against it. Or I voted against it before I voted for it," he said. "Don't think we are so deaf, dumb and stupid as American citizens so as to fall for that particular move. We know how it ends."
"The principle moment was this morning at 1 a.m.," he added. "So you showed us everything we needed to see about your leadership... when you were more afraid of Harry Reid and Barack Obama then the people who sent you to Washington. Well guess what. You will have a lot more to explain and a lot more to fear when you get back home... Whether you're [Sens.] Jim Webb (D-Va.), Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) or any of you. You don't have what it takes. You're unprincipled and the people know you are now."