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Sanford fires back

From NBC's Domenico Montanaro
South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford struck a feisty tone Saturday night, responding directly to Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley's call earlier in the day for "fringe" Republican governors opposed to stimulus funds to "step aside."

"I don't see folks [here], who are really wired to step aside," Sanford
said to applause from the GOP crowd in "The Crystal Room," an ornate
dining room, complete with cascading chandeliers and 15-foot high green
marble columns, at the upscale Willard Intercontinental Hotel in
downtown Washington, two blocks from the White House.

At the Republican Governors Association dinner -- in part, a thank you
to Republican fundraisers during this weekend when governors from
around the country are in the nation's capital for the National
Governors Association meeting -- Sanford lauded the efforts
specifically of Bobby Jindal, Haley Barbour, Rick Perry and Sonny Perdue, Southern governors who have said they're opposed to stimulus funds and may not take money for their states.

Sanford called Republican governors the "last ones standing," when it comes to setting conservative policy.

He thanked House Minority Leader John Boehner, who was in attendance, for keeping House Republicans firmly in opposition to the stimulus.

He had some tough words, however, for the Upper Chamber.

"What we're doing should have been done by Congress and the U.S. Senate," Sanford continued. Three Republican senators crossed the aisle to give the Democrats a filibuster-proof coalition to pass President Obama's recovery bill.

Sanford went so far to say that, "This is a gut check vote, a gut check deliberation ... for the future of our civilization."

But Sanford aide Ben Fox later acknowledged that, in large part, Sanford's "hands are tied" when it comes to what the governor can actually do in rejecting the funds. The state legislature, Fox said, wants the funds and may have ultimate authority for most of the money.

Not all the governors have taken such a hard ideological line. There was no mention in Sanford's speech of Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who has carved out a nuanced stance on the funds. He argues that though he may have concerns about some aspects of the bill, his constituents pay a hefty amount in taxes to the federal government and his state needs that money. (Pawlenty, by the way, who shook up the RGA conference in Miami back in November with an impassioned speech on the new direction the party should take, sat toward the back of the room -- just in front of a table of about half a dozen reporters.)

Other governors at the dinner echoed Pawlenty's stance.

"I wouldn't have voted for it if I were in Congress," North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven said before adding, "but, hell yeah we're gonna take it. We pay for this... Geez Maries. Come on."

RGA spokespeople as well as Republicans in attendance downplayed any potential Sanford-Crist-Pawlenty friction. In fact, Sanford even stopped by to chat it up with Pawlenty -- like regular pals. They shook hands, joked around and Pawlenty even -- perhaps commenting on Sanford's speech -- did a mock wrestling move, slapping his elbow and diving it downward.

Do they always get along so chummy? Or did they all have a discussion earlier in the day about how to show a united front?

Could be a little bit of both.

Introducing, Steve Forbes…
The point of Sanford speaking was to introduce flat-taxer Steve Forbes. Sanford called Forbes an "ideas" man, someone with solutions.

Forbes didn't disappoint the crowd. He railed against the stimulus, made fun of Fed Chair Ben Bernanke and told jokes about talking about, what else, money. What's the best way to get someone to move away from you, especially if you want the armrest on an airplane? You guessed it -- talk about economics. (It got big laughs.)

He even issued his prescription for righting the housing crisis, which included aggressively buying up mortgage-backed securities -- something he said would sound "Socialistic coming from me."

More laughs.