After a week of seeking out Democrats to respond to Republican debates, Good Morning America's George Stephanopoulos on Thursday interviewed Reince Priebus and grilled the Republican National Committee Chairman on the state of the GOP and whether Sarah Palin is "becoming a distraction" in the 2012 race.
Stephanopoulos did not invite Priebus to weigh in on the scandal involving Solyndra, a bankrupt green jobs company that received a guaranteed loan from the government. Yet, when the host interviewed Obama adviser David Axelrod on September 13, he implored the Democrat to higlight Republican problems. Speaking with Axelrod about Rick Perry, the anchor pushed, "Did he fix the Social Security problem he has?"
On Thursday, Stephanopoulos quizzed the RNC chair: "But, we know the White House is prepared to have President Obama play Harry Truman in 1948, run against a do-nothing Congress. Congress' approval ratings are lower than the President's. Are you worried about that?"
When Priebus responded by stating that he wasn't worried because "the fish rots from the head," Stephanopoulos quickly jumped in, apparently surprised by the Republican's tone: "The President is rotting?"
The former Democratic operative turned journalist continued to press, insisting, "But, doesn't that mean Congress has to get something done this year on jobs?"
Earlier, the anchor noted a meeting between Rick Perry and Donald Trump. He theorized, "But [Trump] still wanted to wait and see what Sarah Palin would do. Is she becoming a distraction in this race?
One of the odder moments came when Stephanopoulos tried to trap Priebus, who obviously can't endorse candidates, into weighing in on Chris Christie: "A lot in the establishment think, 'Boy, we want another candidate in the race.' A lot of talk about New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Is there time for him to get in? And do you think he should?"
In contrast, on September 09, when Stephanopoulos interviewed Joe Biden, he offered this softball about the jobs bill: "Mark Zandi, the economist says this can create close to two million jobs. Is that what you expect? And what is the down side risk for the economy if the President's plan doesn't pass?"
The host added another bland query, gently asking, "But, are you getting any more indication that Congress will actually act on this plan and pass it?"
A transcript of the September 15 segment, which aired at 7:10am EDT, follows:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: For more on this, we're joined live, now, by the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus. Thanks for coming in this morning.
REINCE PRIEBUS [Makes Greek joke about a previous segment.] How are you, George?
STEPHANOPOULOS: We're both Greeks. A Greek good morning. So, let's start out with Trump and Perry. Trump came away very impressed with Rick Perry, he said. But he still wanted to wait and see what Sarah Palin would do. Is she becoming a distraction in this race?
PRIEBUS: I don't think so. You know, I think, here's what's happening. We're going to have a rigorous primary on our side of the aisle and I think that's what the American people are looking for. I think we're sort of done with the staged speeches, the pageantry, the talking.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Is she even running?
PRIEBUS: I'm not sure. I mean, really. Your guess is as good as mine. But, I'm happy with where we're heading right now in the field and the Republican primary. I think that the American people are ready for a change in direction. Our country's in the ditch. I think this President has put us there. And I think it's time that we get real and put authentic people back in the White House that want to make a difference.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Rick Perry took a lot of shots on that CNN debate on Monday night, including on this whole issue of mandating the HPV vaccination for school girls in Texas. Sarah Palin called that an example of crony capitalism, because Perry was taking money from Merck and his former chief of staff was lobbying for Merck. Was that a fair shot?
PRIEBUS: Well, you know, there's going to be a lot of shots in the primaries. And, you know, I've been through that in Wisconsin. I think people, obviously- Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton went through that all the way through June. And look what it got them. It was actually very good for them. Having a primary, having a debate on our side on how to get America back on track and really effect change for the good in this country is something that the American people are starving for.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But, is that crony capitalism?
PRIEBUS: I'm not going to debate that. I'm not going to referee that issue. I'm the chairman of the Republican National Committee. I can't take sides. But what I can do is make sure that we make Barack Obama a one-term president and save our country economically.
STEPHANOPOULOS: The number one issue is jobs, as you suggest. The President has come out with his jobs plan. Pretty clear from the response of the Republican leaders in Congress, that it's dead on arrival. Speaker Boehner is going to have his plan today. But, we know the White House is prepared to have President Obama play Harry Truman in 1948, run against a do-nothing Congress. Congress' approval ratings are lower than the President's. Are you worried about that?
PRIEBUS: You know, I'm not worried about it. Because, at the end of the day, the fish rots at the head, as you know. And this President-
STEPHANOPOULOS: The President is rotting?
PRIEBUS: I'll tell you what, I don't think this President's led. I think he's frustrated even his own base. You saw that in New York, just two nights ago, when even Democrats are saying, "Look. we don't like the direction that even Barack Obama is taking this country." And he's going to have to answer to that. So, I don't think that that's an issue. I think that what Americans are starving for are not necessarily all Republican answers or all Democrat answers. But what Republicans are starving for is real, authentic people to serve this country.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But, doesn't that mean Congress has to get something done this year on jobs?
PRIEBUS: Well, I think that the Republicans in the House have tried to get things done on jobs. I mean, we passed cut and cap and balance. We passed the budget. The Democrats haven't even passed the budget. The President promised that he would cut the deficit in half by the end of his his first term. What did he do? He introduced the biggest structural deficit in the history of America. And guess what? Not one single Democrat in the United States Senate voted for the President's plan. I have got to tell you, he's taken this country off the rails. And the American people know it.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Republicans are getting more satisfied with the presidential field. But a lot is still holding back. You have heard the talk here in New York, across the country. A lot in the establishment think, "Boy, we want another candidate in the race." A lot of talk about New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Is there time for him to get in? And do you think he should?
PRIEBUS: Well, I mean, I think there's time for a lot of people to get in. Bill Clinton joined the race, I think, in October the year before the election. And, you know, I was a chairman in Wisconsin at a time where our Ron Johnson announced his candidacy just eight months before an election. I always think there was time. But, I'm also very satisfied with where the field is at in the republican side of the aisle. And I think that it's time to start the debate on how to get America back on the rails and save ourselves economically. And make Barack Obama a one-term president.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Mr. Chairman, thank you very much.