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GOP chairman under fire over abortion comment

Michael Steele refers to abortion as an 'individual choice' in a magazine interview, a remark condemned by some fellow Republicans. Steele issues a clarification.

March 13, 2009|Chris Cillizza and Perry Bacon Jr. | Cillizza and Bacon write for the Washington Post.

WASHINGTON — Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele was on the receiving end of a fresh round of criticism from prominent party members Thursday after an interview was released in which he referred to abortion as an "individual choice."

His comment to GQ magazine inflamed opponents of abortion rights, one of the GOP's core constituencies, and further complicated Steele's difficult first month on the job.

Former Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, who endorsed Steele in the RNC chairman's race, condemned the remark.

"Chairman Steele needs to reread the Bible, the U.S. Constitution and the 2008 GOP platform," Blackwell said. "He then needs to get to work or get out of the way."

Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and 2008 presidential candidate, called Steele's comment "very troubling."

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said Steele's remark was "cavalier" and "flippant," adding that the comment reinforced "the belief by many social conservatives that one major party is unfriendly while the other gives only lip service to core moral issues."

Steele backtracked after the release of the interview, which was conducted weeks ago. On Thursday he issued a statement: "I tried to present why I am pro-life while recognizing that my mother had a 'choice' before deciding to put me up for adoption. I thank her every day for supporting life."

Some in the antiabortion movement said they were satisfied with Steele's explanation.

James Bopp Jr., a prominent foe of abortion rights, said he had "never had any doubt that Steele is personally pro-life," and added that Steele's "clarification was needed and should put this to rest."

Steele also received votes of confidence from two former rivals for the RNC chairmanship. Saul Anuzis, former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, said the comments would have "little effect" on Steele's chairmanship, and Chip Saltsman, the former head of the Tennessee Republican Party, acknowledged that his onetime rival was "off to a slow start [but] I have a lot of faith in him."

Several party sources said that in the near term Steele remained secure in his position. They cited the difficulty of removing him, the desire to quell the appearance of further chaos within the party, and the willingness to allow Steele time to establish himself.

"He hasn't even had time to get his full management team in place, much less develop and implement his plan," said Gary Jones, chairman of the Oklahoma Republican Party. Jones called questions about Steele's future as RNC chairman "counter-productive."

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Cillizza and Bacon write for the Washington Post.

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