Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich is praising Michael Steele in his first year as chairman of the Republican National Committee.
Gingrich, who served as speaker from 1995 to 1999, says Steele is off to a good start, citing successes in fundraising and GOP victories in governor's races in Virginia and New Jersey.
"I'm a fan of Steele's," Gingrich said on Thursday in a meeting with reporters about healthcare reform. "I think he is learning, he is smart and he will be an important part of where we're going."
Steele came under fire earlier this week for saying he thinks Republicans have "screwed up" in the years since Ronald Reagan was president and for raising doubt that the GOP can win back the U.S. House in the fall elections.
Gingrich said the party should "relax and focus on winning elections and not on inside-the-party cannibalism."
"Michael Steele makes a number of old-time Republicans very nervous," Gingrich said. "He comes out of a different background. He went to seminary ... he's African-American ... But I think he's pretty close to what we need. He's different, he's gutsy and he's going to make a number of Republicans mad."
Gingrich is founder of the Center for Healthcare Transformation and is calling for President Barack Obama to urge Congress to air the next stage of the healthcare debate on C-SPAN and other media outlets. C-SPAN Chief Executive Officer Brian Lamb has also asked Congress for permission to broadcast discussions between Senate and House leaders when they hash out details of a final bill. Obama said in a January 2008 debate that he would broadcast negotiations on C-Span "so that the American people can see what the choices are." But Democratic leaders have said they plan to work on a final version behind closed doors.
Gingrich said he supports healthcare reform, but not the bills passed by the Senate and House. He added Republicans would likely go after the current legislation if it passes during the fall election season.
"Every Republican in the country is going to say they want to replace the bill with something better," Gingrich said. "We want healthcare reform. This is just the wrong medicine."
On Michael Steele defense, he never wanted the job anyway...
After Declaring ‘I Want The Gig,’ Steele Claims He Didn’t ‘Seek’ RNC Chairmanship
Earlier this week, RNC Chairman Michael Steele once again set off intraparty squabbling when he told Sean Hannity that he didn’t think Republicans could take back the House in 2010 and that even if they did, he didn’t know if they were ready to govern. In an ABC News Radio interview yesterday, he defended himself by telling his critics to “shut up” and “get a life.”
In a separate, friendly interview on Dennis Miller’s radio show yesterday, Steele claimed that he did not “ask for” or “seek” his RNC position:
MILLER: And I think, I hope this is not where you — listen, I know you’re going to say it’s a great gig. But I, you know you’ve got a lot more in you, man. I hope you’re one of our leaders again soon.
STEELE: No, I, look this, I feel this is part of a calling for me. I mean, I didn’t ask for, I didn’t seek this job, I didn’t ask for it. It wasn’t part of my, you know, chartered course in life to wind up as chairman of the RNC. You know, there was a convergence of moments here.
Steele’s assertion that he didn’t “seek” the chairmanship of the RNC is odd considering he had to win an election to obtain the position. In fact, when Steele confirmed his desire to be chairman he told Hannity and Colmes, “I want the gig.” Watch it:
He also issued a press release announcing his “candidacy for the position of Chairman of the Republican National Committee.”