01/30/2012 03:27 pm ET Updated Mar 31, 2012

Reince Preibus' Obama, Cruise Ship Captain Comparison Draws Harsh Criticism

WASHINGTON -- The White House is criticizing comments by the Republican National Committee chairman comparing President Barack Obama to the Italian cruise ship captain who allegedly abandoned his sinking ship.

RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said Sunday on CBS's "Face the Nation" that Obama was "our own little Captain Schettino." Priebus accused Obama of abandoning ship in the U.S. and spending more time on his re-election campaign.

Former RNC Chairman Michael Steele told MSNBC the analogy was "unfortunate."

In response, White House press secretary Jay Carney said: "If you are so desperate for attention that you make an analogy that Michael Steele deems inappropriate, you know you've probably gone too far."

Preibus later defended his remarks in an interview with Fox News' Megyn Kelly.

"Well, I mean, clearly Megyn when I made those comments, I clearly used the analogy in both sentences that this president was akin to leaving his own job and campaigning non-stop all the time, worried about his job number one, instead of the jobs of the millions of Americans that are out there," Preibus said. "The reality is, it's a fair analogy in regard to leadership in a moment of crisis that this president is more interested in his own job, number one than the jobs of millions of Americans that are out there hurting right now when he promised them that he would be better."

Preibus continued, expressing his condolences to those who died in the disaster, but also accusing his detractors of blowing his comparison out of proportion.

"No I think it's awful, people have died of course, terrible and our prayers go out to those people without a question. But to take this comment and turn it into something that it was not, that's wrong too and that’s political gamesmanship as well," he said.

So far, the disaster has claimed at least 17 lives, though more passengers and crew remain missing and are presumed dead.