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ATLANTA — Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich is praising Michael Steele in his first year as chairman of the Republican National Committee.
Gingrich, who served as speaker from 1995 to 1999, says Steele is off to a good start, citing successes in fundraising and GOP victories in governor’s races in Virginia and New Jersey.

“I’m a fan of Steele’s,” Gingrich said on Thursday in a meeting with reporters about healthcare reform. “I think he is learning, he is smart and he will be an important part of where we’re going.”

Steele came under fire earlier this week for saying he thinks Republicans have “screwed up” in the years since Ronald Reagan was president and for raising doubt that the GOP can win back the U.S. House in the fall elections.

Gingrich said the party should “relax and focus on winning elections and not on inside-the-party cannibalism.”

“Michael Steele makes a number of old-time Republicans very nervous,” Gingrich said. “He comes out of a different background. He went to seminary … he’s African-American … But I think he’s pretty close to what we need. He’s different, he’s gutsy and he’s going to make a number of Republicans mad.”

Gingrich is founder of the Center for Healthcare Transformation and is calling for President Barack Obama to urge Congress to air the next stage of the healthcare debate on C-SPAN and other media outlets. C-SPAN Chief Executive Officer Brian Lamb has also asked Congress for permission to broadcast discussions between Senate and House leaders when they hash out details of a final bill. Obama said in a January 2008 debate that he would broadcast negotiations on C-Span “so that the American people can see what the choices are.” But Democratic leaders have said they plan to work on a final version behind closed doors.

Gingrich said he supports healthcare reform, but not the bills passed by the Senate and House. He added Republicans would likely go after the current legislation if it passes during the fall election season.

“Every Republican in the country is going to say they want to replace the bill with something better,” Gingrich said. “We want healthcare reform. This is just the wrong medicine.”

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