By Michael O'Brien - 10/09/09 04:42 PM EDT
Democrats pounced Friday on a statement from Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Michael Steele, who said President Barack Obama did not deserve to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
In an e-mail to reporters, DNC press secretary Hari Sevugan suggested that Steele's statement, which said Obama’s “star power” had overshadowed more deserving recipients, was similar to reactions from Hamas and the Taliban.
The e-mail, sent to reporters shortly after Steele's statement, included the RNC response to the Nobel Peace Price, as well as the reactions from the two terrorist groups.
But many other elected Republicans, including Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), have either kept their powder dry or offered words of praise for the president's award.
Democrats have tried to craft an image of Republicans as rooting against the U.S. on the world stage, with DNC Communications Director Brad Woodhouse linking Steele's response to the cheer from some conservatives last week after Chicago was not awarded the 2016 Olympics, despite presidential lobbying.
“Republicans cheered when America failed to land the Olympics and now they are criticizing the president of the United States for receiving the Nobel Peace Prize — an award he did not seek but that is nonetheless an honor in which every American can take great pride — unless of course you are the Republican Party,” Woodhouse said in a statement Friday.
The RNC fired back early Friday afternoon, accusing Democrats of seeking to “demonize” opponents who have questioned the extent of the president's accomplishments.
“Like most Americans, the DNC can’t think of one achievement that the president has accomplished, so they resort to their predictable response and standard playbook of demonizing those who disagree with them,” RNC press secretary Gail Gitcho said in an e-mail.
“First they call Americans concerned over health care ‘rabid extremists’ and ‘angry mobs.' Now, when challenged to answer the question of what the president has accomplished, Democrats are lashing out calling Republicans terrorists. That type of political rhetoric is shameful.”
Pawlenty, a potential 2012 challenger to Obama, said that the appropriate response to the news is to congratulate the president.
“You know, I guess I would say this: Regardless of the circumstance, any time someone wins a Nobel Prize, I think an appropriate response is to say congratulations," Pawlenty said on his weekly radio show in Minnesota.
The governor acknowledged potential doubts about the validity of the award, but maintained that “when anybody wins a Nobel Prize, you know that is a very noteworthy development and designation and award, and I think the proper response is to say congratulations.”
McCain, Obama's 2008 presidential election opponent, also offered praise.
“Oh, I’m sure that the president is very honored to receive this award,” McCain said Friday during a taping of "State of the Union" to air Sunday on CNN. “And I’m sure the president understands that he now has even more to live up to. But as Americans, we’re proud when our president receives an award of that prestigious category.”
Other Republican leaders have remained silent on the issue. A spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) said the top-ranking Senate Republican was unlikely to issue a statement, while House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) has so far been unavailable to comment.
One other Republican did bash Obama’s award; Sen. James Inhofe (Okla.) accused the president of having won the award for “de-emphasizing defense” in an interview with The Oklahoman.
The Ripon Society, a group of centrist Republicans, chided some GOP leaders for having criticized the president for receiving the award.
"Rather than getting upset and reaffirming their reputation of late as a party driven by anger, Republicans would have been better off doing what most Americans probably did when they heard the news this morning: scratch their heads and accept the award for what it is -- an honor," said Lou Zickar, the editor of the Ripon Forum.
"At a time when a majority of Americans are sympathetic to the GOP’s core positions on spending, taxes and the role of government, Republicans are forgetting a basic rule in American politics – it’s not just about policy, it’s also about pitch," Zickar added.
For their part, Democratic leaders chimed in Friday afternoon, praising the president for having ushered in a new era in international relations.
“President Obama is working to restore American leadership worldwide and build bonds of friendship across the globe,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement. “The Nobel Peace Prize is a testament to his leadership and vision and a tribute to American values.”
“By ushering in a period of optimism in American politics, President Obama has become a great source of pride and inspiration for many Americans,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) stated. “I congratulate the president on this tremendous honor that he has earned with his dedication to a new type of politics based on hope instead of fear.”
This story was updated at 1:21 p.m.