GOP leaders tire of Steele’s ‘policy’ work

GOP LEADERS TIRE OF STEELE’S ‘POLICY’ WORK…. In July, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele hosted a press conference to bash health care reform, and effectively read a strategy memo from Alex Castellanos. When asked by reporters about substantive details, Steele declared, “I don’t do policy.”

The problem, of course, is that Steele tries to do policy all the time, which has proven problematic. For one thing, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. For another, he’s not in a policymaking position, and can’t pursue a substantive agenda, even if he wanted to.

Apparently, leading Republican officials, who actually have policy responsibilities, are getting a little tired of Steele’s antics.

GOP leaders, in a private meeting last month, delivered a blunt and at times heated message to RNC Chairman Michael Steele: quit meddling in policy.

The plea was made during what was supposed to be a routine discussion about polling matters and other priorities in House Minority Leader John Boehner’s office. But the session devolved into a heated discussion about the roles of congressional leadership and Steele, according to multiple people familiar with the meeting.

The congressional leaders were particularly miffed that Steele had in late August unveiled a seniors’ “health care bill of rights” without consulting with them. The statement of health care principles, outlined in a Washington Post op-ed, began with a robust defense of Medicare that puzzled some in a party not known for its attachment to entitlements.

The comments reportedly came by way of Boehner, Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, and John Thune. In other words, pretty much the entire Republican leadership told the RNC chairman to focus on his job, not theirs. What’s more, they were less than gentle in delivering the message. (Asked if it was a contentious conversation, Thune would only say: “I don’t want to get into the details of that.”)

Steele apparently got defensive. It didn’t help that he was planning to present even more policy initiatives.

I’m not entirely unsympathetic to Steele’s predicament. He reportedly reminded GOP leaders that he travels the country, and Republican activists ask where the party stands on a range of issues. Since Republican leaders in the House and Senate prefer not to have a policy agenda, Steele is using his post to just fill the vacuum.

The problem, though, is that he’s not doing it very well.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.