POLITICS
11/29/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Gibbs: Is Steele Rooting For Brazil To Get Olympic Games? (VIDEO)

Pushing back against criticism that the President is too busy to stop in Copenhagen to pitch Chicago as a host site for the 2016 Olympics, the White House played the patriotism card on Tuesday.

Asked about remarks by RNC chairman Michael Steele accusing Obama of leaving Congress directionless on health care by making the trip, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs shot back by suggesting that Steele was rooting for Brazil to win the Olympic bid

"Who is he rooting for?" Gibbs asked. "Is he hoping to hop a plane to Brazil and catch the Olympics in Rio? Maybe it's Madrid?"

Rio de Janeiro and Madrid are two other front-runners for hosting the 2016 games.

A blunt sound bite that drew "oohs" from the press corps, Gibbs' is the sharpest reaction to come from the White House to those Republicans who have questioned the decision to send the president to Copenhagen. But don't expect it to put an end to the criticism. The emerging argument among conservatives now is that Obama should use the flight overseas as an opportunity to visit ground forces in Afghanistan. If the president doesn't make that trip in addition to his stop in Copenhagen, he could risk a whole other round of recriminations.

"The president again sees the opportunity to push strongly on the international stage America's bid for the Olympics," Gibbs explained, when asked why Obama thought it was important to personally push for the Olympic games. "He will obviously have a part in the Chicago presentation and believes it is important for him to talk directly with voting members of the IOC [International Olympic Committee] and make the strong case for the American side."