Update: Ellison has disputed the accuracy of the Huffington Post report upon which this blog entry is based, saying he did in fact not call for Gibbs to resign. HuffPo reporter Ryan Grim is standing by his story and quotes.
“To set the record straight, I did not call for White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs to resign,” Ellison said in a statement late Tuesday. “Unfortunately the Huffington Post and other media outlets got the story wrong. I did say, however, that he went too far in his rhetoric. We all know that words matter in politics. I hope that Mr. Gibbs has reconsidered the wisdom of his words.”
That’s a serious charge, so I contacted HuffPo’s Ryan Grim, who stands by his quotes.
“Ellison’s office is not disputing the accuracy of his comments as related in the Huffington Post, but rather the interpretation,” Grim told me. “Ellison said that “Gibbs crossed the line. His dismissal would be fair,” among other comments to that effect. That sounds like calling for his resignation to me.”
WASHINGTON — Rep. Keith Ellison today said White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs should resign after saying many members of the “professional left” would never be satisfied with any Democratic president.
“I hear these people saying he’s like George Bush. Those people ought to be drug tested,” Gibbs told The Hill. “I mean, it’s crazy.” He followed by saying that “they will be satisfied when we have Canadian healthcare and we’ve eliminated the Pentagon. That’s not reality.”
Asked about Gibbs’ comments by the Huffington Post’s Ryan Grim, Ellison was direct:
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), an active member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said Gibbs went too far. “This is not the first time that Mr. Gibbs has made untoward and inflammatory comments and I certainly hope that people in the White House don’t share his view that the left is unimportant to the president,” he said. “I understand him having some loyalty to the president who employs him, but I think he’s walking over the line.”
Ellison said that Gibbs’s resignation would be an appropriate response. “I think that’d be fair, yeah. That’d be fair, because this isn’t the first time. And, again, people of all political shades worked very hard to help the president become the president. Why would he want to go out and deliberately insult the president’s base? And why would he confuse legitimate critique with some sort of lack of loyalty. Isn’t this what the far right does? Punishes people who are not ideologically aligned with President Bush?”
It’s wrong to suggest that progressives want to eliminate the Pentagon, said Ellison, adding that he doesn’t know a single Democrat who has espoused that view. “I know of none. So I think that was an inflammatory remark that is emblematic of his careless use of language and is an example of why he may not be the best person for the job,” he said. “Gibbs crossed the line. His dismissal would be fair.”
Gibbs, who was originally scheduled to brief the press corps today, was replaced at the podium by his deputy, Bill Burton.
Asked for a response to Ellison’s comments, a White House spokesman referred me to an exchange from the daily briefing, where deputy press secretary Bill Burton subbed in for Gibbs. I don’t know how much Burton’s comments actually responded to the question asked, but here’s that exchange (per the White House transcript):
Reporter: To follow up on Laura’s question, you sort of alluded to the fact that the professional left doesn’t necessarily represent the entire left, and you have some support there. Is it safe to assume then that you believe that by attacking the professional left you don’t alienate the, for lack of a better term, amateur left? (Laughter.)
Burton: I’m not going to accept the premise that there’s an amateur left, for starters. But like I said, this is kind of a small issue, and I don’t think that this is going to have a huge impact on the fact that the things that this administration has done, what the President is setting out to do, as we go forward, the commitment that he has to keeping the country safe, to growing the economy. I don’t think any of that is going to be obscured by those sorts of arbitrary definitions.
Sam Stein, Huffington Post: Yes, an actual member of the professional left, Representative Keith Ellison, told my colleague today that he thought it would be appropriate if Robert Gibbs stepped down because of his comments. I’m wondering if you have a reaction to that. And then I have a different question on a whole ‘nother topic.
Burton: Okay, I don’t think there’s any danger in that. What’s the other question?