Progressive Democrats fired back at Robert Gibbs on Tuesday, following the White House press secretary's sharp critique of what he called a "professional left" that is perpetually unsatisfied by President Obama.
"I hear these people saying he's like George Bush. Those people ought to be drug tested," Gibbs said in an interview with The Hill.
"They will be satisfied when we have Canadian healthcare and we've eliminated the Pentagon. That's not reality," he added. "They wouldn't be satisfied if Dennis Kucinich was president."
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."
Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a civil rights legend who has been critical of Obama from a progressive direction, laughed at Gibbs's suggestion that liberal critics should be drug tested. "Should be drug tested? They think we're on something? Smoking something?" he said. "It's very hot in Washington and we've come back at a peculiar time. I just think we all just need to finish and get out of here."
Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, also lashed out at Gibbs on Tuesday.
"I think before Gibbs or the White House points figures at liberals and progressives, they ought to check their own record," Grijalva told HuffPost. "The whole drug testing thing -- our dissatisfaction is based on [the fact that] we haven't met the expectations and we're hearing that from our base, period."
Grijalva was critical of the White House for abandoning the public insurance option during the health care reform debate, and for otherwise compromising too quickly with a Republican Party uninterested in bipartisanship. Gibbs had the misfortune of having his comments published on a day in August when the House is back in session and members of Congress are easily accessible to reporters. Gibbs has since walked back his criticism of what he deemed the "professional left."
"But two," said Grijalva, "that drug testing, if that's the case, would probably have to extend to 50 percent of the American population at this point. They're kind of feeling dissatisfied too."
That would require millions of drug tests, HuffPost noted.
"They can do hair follicles," quipped Grijalva.