Podesta likens House GOP to Jonestown cult


White House advisor John Podesta apologized Wednesday after being quoted comparing House Republican leaders to the Jonestown cult. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
December 18, 2013

A new White House adviser hiredto stabilize operations after a difficult year for President Obama is already doing damage control for a verbal flub of his own making.

John Podesta, a former Clinton administration official who has taken a one-year assignment as a counselor to Obama, apologized Wednesday after being quoted comparing the House Republican leadership to the Jonestown cult led by Jim Jones that resulted in the deaths of more than 900 people.

Podesta made the remark in an article in Politico Magazine, saying that the Obama administration should focus on using executive action because it is “facing a second term against a cult worthy of Jonestown in charge of one of the houses of Congress.”

Although Podesta was speaking this fall before being hired by the White House, he quickly apologized to House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) through a post on his Twitter account.

“In an old interview, my snark got in front of my judgment,” Podesta wrote. “I apologize to Speaker Boehner, whom I have always respected.”

Before Podesta’s apology, Boehner’s office expressed outrage, noting in an e-mail to reporters that Rep. Leo Ryan ­(D-Calif.) was killed during the incident in Guyana in 1978. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), then a congressional staffer, was wounded — shot five times.

“If this is the attitude of the new White House, it’s hard to see how the president gets anything done again,” Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said.

Podesta has advised Obama since leading his presidential transition after the 2008 election. He was named to a formal role in the Obama White House this month in the wake of the disastrous rollout of the administration’s insurance-enrollment Web site, part of the president’s signature health-care program.

Podesta, who begins in January, also is expected to help oversee a White House push to implement executive actions on climate change and other matters as part of an attempt to move forward on issues unlikely to win approval from a divided Congress.

At the White House, press secretary Jay Carney said Podesta’s Jonestown remark does “not reflect the approach he has taken in his past or will take when he arrives here at the White House.”

David Nakamura covers the White House. He has previously covered sports, education and city government and reported from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Japan.
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