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Are Democrats painting themselves as the lesser of the evils?

Robert Gibbs, the president's chief mouthpiece, said he was simply pointing out the obvious when he said Democrats were vulnerable.
Robert Gibbs, the president's chief mouthpiece, said he was simply pointing out the obvious when he said Democrats were vulnerable. (Carolyn Kaster/associated Press)

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By Dana Milbank
Wednesday, July 14, 2010

It would not be accurate to say that Democrats are worried about losing control of the House in November. It would be accurate to say that Democrats are in a screaming panic about losing control of the House in November.

The panic threshold was crossed Sunday morning on "Meet the Press," when White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said, "There's no doubt there are enough seats in play that could cause Republicans to gain control."

Gibbs spent part of the next two days claiming that he was merely pointing out the obvious. But when the president's chief spokesman points out the "obvious" fact that his party is in big trouble, it becomes self-fulfilling. On Monday, House Republican Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) gleefully agreed that "we're going to retake the House, as Mr. Gibbs suggested."

On Tuesday, as Democratic lawmakers limped back into town from a 10-day recess, a grim Steny Hoyer (Md.), the House majority leader, sat at the end of a long conference table in his office and was quizzed by reporters about the Gibbs-induced panic.

"Do I think he is right in there are enough seats in play?" he asked himself. "Probably close," he answered.

Hoyer agrees with Gibbs that the party could lose the House. It was enough to cause Democrats to assume the Edvard Munch position.

The majority leader hastened to insist that "I don't think we are going to lose the House" -- a clarification Gibbs himself belatedly added -- but everything about Hoyer's defensive and somber 30 minutes with reporters hinted otherwise.

He thought it "unfortunate" that voters have not come to appreciate all the good things in the Democrats' economic stimulus legislation. He said the Democrats "regrettably" could not pass a budget with a target for deficit reduction. And he said the Democrats have a "very difficult" political argument to present to voters before November's elections.

"I am sure you are going to ask me about the recent poll in The Washington Post; I am not happy about it," Hoyer submitted, preemptively, in his opening statement before taking questions.

Unfortunate, regrettable, very difficult and unhappy: These are not the words of a party leader who anticipates victory.

"I think Americans are angry," he went on. "Their economy is still not working the way it ought to work. We agree with that." Hoyer tried to explain how the anger has "unfortunately" -- that word again! -- been misdirected at innocent Democrats rather than at "the Bush/Hastert/Boehner/McCain policies."

The Post-ABC News poll that caused Hoyer's unhappiness found that six in 10 voters lack confidence in President Obama to make the right decisions, and -- of more immediate concern to House Democrats -- a majority of voters say it's more important to have Republicans in charge of Congress as a check on Obama's policies.


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