The White House quickly pounced after news broke that Michael Steele was charging up to $20,000 in speaking fees in addition to his official gig, mocking the RNC chairman for delivering criticisms of the health care bill for profit and calling his reasoning '"delusional."
Pressed about a remark Steele made Monday, in which he insisted Democrats were "flipping the bird" to the public in the form of health care legislation, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs asked how much money Steele was paid for "that interview." Later when a cell phone ring interrupted the briefing, and someone cried out that Steele was on the line, Gibbs insisted it would cost $30,000 to answer that call.
The quips were both delivered with a Cheshire-cat smile. On Tuesday morning the Washington Times reported that Steele, who earns $223,500-a-year in his RNC post, was charging roughly $10,000 to $15,000 for appearances at "colleges, trade associations and other groups." The moonlighting was condemned by former RNC chairmen Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr. ("Holy Mackerel!") and Jim Nicholson. But Democrats also gleefully jumped on the news -- in addition to going after the substance of the RNC chairman's latest round of health care criticism.
"I think if you look back, just to give everybody some context... [Steele's remark] was, I think, predicated on the fact that he had in his mind deduced that the White House had pressured the Congressional Budget Office into coming up with statistics that are good for the bill... The notion that this White House is in cahoots with the CBO is delusional to put it mildly. So I would suggest this for the RNC and anybody else in the Republican Party: There are millions of people who do not have health care this Christmas ... instead of giving chippy interviews it might be good to be part of the negotiations and the solutions."