Republican Rep. Michelle Steel is facing backlash after video from a recent political event shows her apologizing to GOP supporters for working with Democrat Katie Porter on a resolution condemning hate crimes against Asian Americans.
Steel’s team says the comments, which are circulating via social media, were just a joke.
“Naturally, far-left liberals, who couldn’t possibly comprehend working across the aisle, would blow out of proportion a comment made in jest,” a Steel spokesperson said.
But critics say the sentiment contradicts promises Steel made to voters on the campaign trail in her narrowly red 48th District last year, and the reputation she’s tried to build during her first months in the House as someone who wants to work across the aisle to get things done.
Such comments also might make it tougher for Steel to partner with Democratic colleagues going forward, experts say, which is key to getting any legislation passed given the current makeup of Congress.
“The concern is you don’t want to look like a fool for working together with someone who will attack you,” said Jodi Balma, political science professor at Fullerton College. “And it’s hard to trust the collaboration is genuine.”
Steel’s comments came during an April 25 meeting of the Costa Mesa Republican Assembly. After speeches by other local GOP leaders that focused on topics such as claims of voter fraud and gun rights, Steel was introduced to the crowd of several dozen people as a “staunch conservative” who voted against impeaching then-President Donald Trump and against the latest COVID-19 relief bill.
During a 12-minute speech, Steel lamented that Washington, D.C. is “much more partisan than you hear from the media.” Then she mentioned her support for House Resolution 153, a pending bill that would officially condemn hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and call on law enforcement to pursue those responsible for such acts.
“Actually, most progressive Katie Porter 45th district, she and I actually introduced the bill together,” Steel told the crowd.
“I know, I don’t want to work with her,” she added. “But I need her to pass this. That’s the reason.”
The crowd then laughed.
“Sorry about that,” Steel added, sparking more laughter. Then, laughing herself, she added, “We have to work.”
She’s not wrong about that last point, said Matthew Jarvis, a political science professor at Cal State Fullerton.
“She basically has two choices. She can work with the Democrats, or she can get nothing done.”
And Steel’s team — who in February issued a press release about the bill she worked on with Porter — pointed out that she’s garnered some attention for working to support other bipartisan measures, including congressional gold medals to the police who protected the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 attack.
But after video of her April 25 speech turned up on Twitter, people responded with comments such as, “Wow, apologizing for civility and doing her job?”
Another Tweet reads: “Why would you not want to work with your neighboring congressperson on something for the greater good that you both agree on?”
At a fundraiser this week in Costa Mesa @RepSteel apologized to fellow Republicans and Donors for working with @RepKatiePorter on a bill condemning hate crimes against AAPI’s. pic.twitter.com/utbGqK0r3F
— Exiled (@ExileOC) April 30, 2021
When asked to respond to Steel’s comments about her, Porter said: “Unlike Michelle Steel, I will not apologize for working across the aisle for Orange County families.
“Standing up to hate crimes is not a joke to me,” Porter continued.
“Her partisan games are destructive and erode people’s trust in Congress — which I work hard to earn every day by fighting for Orange County communities.”
After Steel introduced HR 153, she Tweeted that she was “proud to work with my Republican and Democrat colleagues” on the measure.
Saying one thing to your base, and something else to wider audiences, is nothing new for politicians on both sides of the aisle, Balma said. But in the age of social media, exposure of such double talk is faster, and more widespread, than ever before.
“It used to be easy to have different scripts for different audiences,” Balma said. “Now, there’s audio/video of most everything said.”
Also, in a polarized political climate, Jarvis said lawmakers are increasingly convinced that the ticket to winning is just motivating their base. And since Steel was speaking April 25 to a group of hardcore GOP supporters, he said, “In that circle, hating the Democrats is practically a ticket for entry.”
This isn’t the first time Steel has taken heat for comments she’s made about Democrats during private GOP events.
Last year, video circulated of a speech in which Steel told a local Republican group that she’d been taught, “There are only two parties in America: Republican Party and Communist Party.”
Voter registration data shows that the GOP’s long-time advantage in Steel’s CA-48 is narrowing. Republicans currently outnumber Democrats in the district by less than 5 percentage points — down from 8 points a year ago. And, in the 2020 election, voters in the district chose Joe Biden over Donald Trump by about 1.5 percentage points.
As a House member, Steel has sided with her party on 16 of 17 issues that have come up for a vote since early February, including votes against the COVID-19 relief package, a path to citizenship for DACA recipients, and a bill to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.
But partisanship soon might benefit Steel and other local Republicans.
Turnout in next year’s midterms is likely to be lower than it was during the 2020 presidential election, and Jarvis believes Steel might be able to beat her expected opponent — former CA-48 Rep. Harley Rouda, a Democrat — by getting her base fired up enough to vote in the off-year race.
Judging by the crowd’s boisterous reaction during the April 25 event, slamming Porter — one of the most well-known Democrats in the House — is one way to do that.
Source: Orange County Register