In a very unusual move – actually it’s never happened to my memory – a press secretary who was scheduled to brief is being replaced at the last minute by his deputy. But less than an hour before the briefing was to start, we were informed that White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs would not be starring in today’s performance and would be replaced by his stand in, Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton.
Gibbs is in deep doo doo today over remarks he made in an interview with The Hill newspaper in which he ridiculed Washington liberals, whom many in the White House view as overly critical of the president.
The outbursts prompted an apology today from Gibbs. It’s the second time in recent weeks that he has enraged Obama’s allies on the left. Last, month, he drew the ire of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi when he suggested that Democrats might lose the House.
There is no specific evidence that Gibbs will step aside. But his replacement by Burton today would seem clearly related to the brouhaha and a signal that he needs to make amends for his critique.
Speaking today at the briefing, Burton said Gibbs decided not to brief because he was a bit ill. Answering a liberal member of Congress who suggested Gibbs needs to “step down,”
Burton replied, “I don’t think there’s any danger of that.”
Not sure I remember the last time Gibbs begged off due to “a sore throat and the sniffles,” as Burton put it, but perhaps there’s a first time for it.
Making oneself the issue is about the last thing a press secretary ever wants to do. It’s his job to keep the focus on the president.
Gibbs told The Hill that liberals who compared Obama to former President George W. Bush need to be “drug tested.”He also referred to some of them as “the professional left” whom he derisively suggested did not represent true “progressives,” who instead reside in “real America” outside of Washington
“They will be satisfied when we have Canadian healthcare and we’ve eliminated the Pentagon. That’s not reality,”
he said. “They wouldn’t be satisfied if Dennis Kucinich was president.”
Here are some excerpts of an apology Gibbs provided today to the Huffington Post, which of course is read and written by “the professional left.”
So what I may have said inartfully, let me say this way — since coming to office in January 2009, this White House and Congress have worked tirelessly to put our country back on the right path. Most importantly, to dig our way out of a huge recession and build an economy that makes America more competitive and our middle class more secure. Some are frustrated that the change we want hasn’t come fast enough for many Americans. That we all understand.
So 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.
Burton is widely viewed as next in line to take the press secretary job whenever Gibbs steps down. Rumors have circulated for months that Gibbs wants to get out anyway and take a senior level advisory job to Obama that does not put him in the briefing room kleig lights every day.
Firing Gibbs is probably out of the question. He is a longtime and trusted Obama aide who was instrumental in the president’s election. His current portfolio extends beyond the tradition press secretary’s job of advisikng on communications and answering reporters’ phone calls.