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Election-Year Infighting Arises Between White House, Congressional Democrats

July 16, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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Comments by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs about congressional Democrats' stakes in the midterm elections exposed some intraparty rifts this week. Kwame Holman reports on the Democratic tension as the fall elections draw closer.
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JEFFREY BROWN: And now to politics.

The president’s spokesman kicked off the week by highlighting just how tough this election year is shaping up for his party, and congressional Democrats swiftly made their displeasure known.

“NewsHour” congressional correspondent Kwame Holman reports.

KWAME HOLMAN: For the White House, the week ended better than it started, with BP’s successful capping of the Gulf oil leak and Senate passage of the financial reform bill. The president touted the legislative victory yesterday afternoon.

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Because of this reform, the American people will never again be asked to foot the bill for Wall Street’s mistakes. There will be no more taxpayer-funded bailouts, period.

KWAME HOLMAN: The beginning of the week didn’t go as smoothly for the administration. In an appearance Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs was asked if the Democrats’ majority in the House was in jeopardy in November.

ROBERT GIBBS, White House press secretary: I think there is no doubt that there are a lot of seats that will be up, a lot of contested seats. I think people are going to have choice to make in the fall. But I think there is no doubt there are enough seats in play that could cause Republicans to gain control. There’s no doubt about that.

KWAME HOLMAN: That angered some House Democrats, who responded that the Obama administration had fallen short in its efforts to help members win reelection. At a closed-door meeting here Tuesday night, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reportedly rebuked Gibbs for his comments.

And those concerns were only stoked by publication of an ABC News/Washington Post poll this week that said voters favored Republicans over Democrats in the battle for Congress.

As the story persisted, Gibbs looked to reframe the matter, predicting at Wednesday’s press briefing that Democrats would hold onto their majorities in both houses.

ROBERT GIBBS: There are a whole host of issues that will be worked on in the next couple of weeks that will highlight the choices that voters will have. And I think — I think, in that choice, we are going to do very well. And, as I have said throughout this, I think we will retain the House and the Senate.

KWAME HOLMAN: By Thursday, it seemed the White House and Pelosi were on better terms, although she still lamented Gibbs’s comment.

REP. NANCY PELOSI, speaker of the house: The president’s message that we are not going back is the message of the Democrats in Congress as well. So, I don’t see a problem. I think the comment was unfortunate.

KWAME HOLMAN: Meanwhile, House Republicans looked to take advantage of the spat. Their leader, John Boehner, went so far as to say a full-scale civil war had erupted among Democrats.