It’s highly uncharacteristic for Robert Gibbs to be off his game. The White House spokesman is incredibly talented at, as they say in Washington, the art of the spin. So Gibbs being in hot water all day for some unguarded statements asserting the “professional left” should be “drug tested” has helped the cable-news channels fill lots of air.
Here’s how it went down: Gibbs granted an interview to The Hill’s Sam Youngman in Gibbs’s office, a room at the north end of the West Wing most reporters visit from time to time. Gibbs often welcomes reporters into his office—sometimes off the record, sometimes not—but with Youngman, it apparently was all fair game. When Youngman asked Gibbs about criticism from progressive interest groups, some of which have alleged that Obama has failed on his promises of hope and change, Gibbs let loose. “I hear these people saying he’s like George Bush. Those people ought to be drug tested,” Gibbs said. “I mean, it’s crazy.”
The White House’s frustration with establishment progressives appears to be valid. For all they did to help Obama win the office, their efforts to help him legislatively on things like health care, cap-and-trade, and financial reform have been lackluster compared with the work of the well-organized Republicans. But Gibbs certainly stepped in it with his delivery. Being frustrated with your base is one thing. Calling them certifiable nuts is another.
We’ll probably never know how Obama reacted when he heard what Gibbs had said. Having his hands full with the economic recovery, fighting two wars, and trying to stave off Democratic losses in November, Obama couldn’t have been pleased to be tossed into a civil war within his own party.
The question of the moment is whether Gibbs’s job is safe. He was scheduled to deliver his usual press briefing today, but Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton stepped in at the last minute, claiming Gibbs was suffering from a cold. (Burton said he didn’t “think there is any danger” of Gibbs being pushed out). Over on Capitol Hill, Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison (of Minnesota) suggested Gibbs should resign after he “crossed the line.” But it’s hard to imagine Gibbs driven from office over a flub like this. Not only was it not a shockingly offensive statement, but it was aimed at Democrats, not Republicans, who would be much more excited and mobilized to launch a campaign to chase Gibbs out of town.
In a statement aimed at making amends, Gibbs suggested that “we should all, me included, stop fighting each other and arguing about our differences on certain policies, and instead work together to make sure everyone knows what is at stake because we've come too far to turn back now." But that doesn’t mean it’s going away soon. Progressives are understandably hurt to be called, in effect, unhelpful and blind. Certain to keep the feud going for another few hours, progressive drum beater and MSNBC host Keith Olbermann is planning a Special Comment period of his show tonight aimed at Gibbs.