Pelosi Calls Gibbs Comment on House Dems ‘Unfortunate’

BY Quinn Bowman  July 15, 2010 at 11:53 AM EST

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi worked Thursday to dispel the notion that she is furious with the White House for not helping House Democrats politically after those members cast tough votes to enact President Obama’s agenda.

A reporter asked Pelosi if President Obama will do more to help House Democrats get elected during the November midterms after Pelosi finished touting how votes taken by House members were helping the shaky economy.

“You want to talk politics and I want to talk policy,” Pelosi said.

But the Speaker made clear her displeasure with White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs’ remarks on Sunday that control of the House could potentially be up for grabs this November.

“I think the comment was unfortunate,” Pelosi said at her weekly press conference with reporters on Capitol Hill. She made sure to separate Gibbs’ comment from the overall White House effort on behalf of Democrats this political season. “It has nothing to do with what the president was doing and what he was saying himself,” she said.

Belying some of the private grumbling from Democratic campaign operatives this week, the Speaker said that she has been very pleased with what the White House has been doing to help Democrats retain their majority and that the Obama operation was in sync with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s efforts.

Her comments come at a time of tension between Democrats in the House of Representatives and the White House – sparked when Gibbs said on NBC’s Meet the Press program Sunday that the playing field is large enough to put control of the House in play.

“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,” Gibbs said.

House Democrats were angered by what Gibbs said, and some accused the White House of asking them to make politically risky votes on the stimulus bill, health care reform, and climate change without backing them up in their races for re-election.

“What the hell do they think we’ve been doing the last 12 months? We’re the ones who have been taking the tough votes,” Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr, D-N.J., told the Washington Post.

“I think it was less his exact words as compared to how his words were interpreted,” responded Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen on MSNBC Thursday when asked what about Gibbs’ comment most upset the Democratic members he is working to protect from defeat this fall.

“But he didn’t complete the sentence and say what’s also clear which is that we’re going to keep our majority,” Van Hollen added.

Democrats on Capitol Hill also expressed frustration that Gibbs provided Republicans a rhetorical gift by acknowledging that control of the House is very much in play this fall. It is also the kind of language that Republicans immediately put to use in fundraising appeals to their donor base.

President Obama met with leaders of the House Democrats Wednesday to try to heal the division and focus on the agenda before midterm elections in November.

At Wednesday’s White House press briefing, there was a sign that the White House understood the concerns of the vulnerable Democrats on the Hill. Gibbs told reporters that the tough choices made by Pelosi and Democrats in the House have been “monumental.”

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