Image: Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, George Miller, Chris Van Hollen
Carolyn Kaster  /  AP
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, second from right, speaks to media outside the West Wing of the White House in Washington, Wednesday. Standing with Pelosi from left are House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Jr., D-Md. and Rep. George Miller, D-Calif.
updated 7/14/2010 10:12:09 PM ET 2010-07-15T02:12:09

Facing criticism from House Democrats, President Barack Obama promised their leaders Wednesday night that he'll actively support their agenda and Democratic lawmakers as they head into tough midterm elections this fall, according to a congressional leadership aide.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer were among those in the Oval Office meeting. The aide, who was briefed on the meeting, spoke on condition of anonymity because the conversation was private.

The meeting came as congressional Democrats, fearing disaster in the fall elections, have expressed frustration with the Obama team and its efforts to help Democrats. They also were angered when White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said over the weekend that enough seats were in play for Democrats to lose the House.

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Obama was told of the concerns of rank-and-file lawmakers, some of whom think the president hasn't been doing enough to use his bully pulpit on their behalf, considering that they are all up for re-election in November, the aide said. Obama won't face voters again until 2012.

Obama said that he understood the criticism and promised full engagement and support on substance and message through the fall, the aide said. With high unemployment dragging down incumbents, a key focus will be on jobs and how individual congressional districts are helped by Democrats' policies.

Pelosi told reporters it had been a "very productive meeting" and said that Gibbs' comment about Democrats possibly losing the House never came up.

Pelosi had lashed out at Gibbs over the remark Tuesday in a closed meeting with rank-and-file members. Earlier Wednesday, Gibbs defended himself, but he hastened to add that he believes Democrats will hang onto the House.

"I don't think I said anything that was politically shocking," Gibbs said during his daily briefing with reporters.

Image: Robert Gibbs Gives The Daily White House Press Briefing
Mark Wilson  /  Getty Images
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs speaks during his daily press briefing Wednesday at the White House.

Also Wednesday, the White House circulated a memo detailing all the political help Obama and administration officials have given to the party's candidates. The White House portrayed the memo as a regular update of its political operation, but the timing suggested otherwise.

The memo describes how Obama and his team are working with candidates ahead of this year's midterm elections. The White House plans to dispatch Obama across the country at least once a week between now and Nov. 2.

So far, Obama has appeared at 32 political events during his presidency and attended hundreds more in swing states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida.

"The president, vice president, first lady, Cabinet officers and senior staff have participated in 187 political events in the last 18 months, all with the intention of directly supporting candidates on the ballot in 2010 or building up the infrastructure of party committees," according to the memo provided by a Democratic official. "(Forty) more events are currently or tentatively scheduled and dozens more will be organized in the next few months."

Congressional Democrats have pushed Obama's circle to do more. Many fret that the White House is ineffective in using the heft of the presidency to help elect Democrats to statehouses, the House and Senate. In private, several Democrats said they worry Obama's team is more focused on its own 2012 re-election bid than the midterm elections that would shape the final two years of the president's first term.

Confidence in the White House political operation was shaken after Democrats lost the Massachusetts Senate seat in January, and governorships in New Jersey and Virginia last year. With Obama's popularity waning and voters frustrated with Democratic control of the White House and Congress, political aides have braced for a brutal election season.

Hoping to stem losses, Obama's inner circle reviewed their schedules and have escalated their political travel. White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel has appeared at fundraisers for candidates such as Reps. Baron Hill of Indiana and Tim Bishop of New York. Emanuel's deputy, Jim Messina, spoke at a fundraiser for Senate hopeful Alexi Giannoulias in Illinois. And Education Secretary Arne Duncan has campaigned for Sen. Michael Bennet, a Colorado Democrat who faces a tough primary challenge.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Tensions grow between Democrats and Gibbs

  1. Closed captioning of: Tensions grow between Democrats and Gibbs

    >> nancy pelosi and robert gibbs .

    >> reporter: yeah.

    >> it seems as though robert gibbs was stating the obvious in ants to david gregory on "meet the press" to whether or not there's a possibility they could lose the house . nancy pelosi just took off after him. let's talk about that for a moment. what will this meeting be like?

    >> reporter: i think it could be awkward at least initially. i think she'll probably will feel she has to say something to express the displeasure of her caucus, which of course she feels, but also how democrats feel. just giving the back story a bit. on sunday on "meet the press robert gibbs said it was within the realm of possibilities that democrats could lose the house , frankly the day after and the day after, he didn't do anything to distance himself from the remarks. he said i was just stating the obvious, can look and see that enough seats are in play, being challenged seriously be republicans that that is a distinct possibility. setting that aside, the problem is a political one. there are lots of things that people might say privately on the hill or here that they don't come out and say directly, and there's a reason for that, because they feel that there is a ram iskt. so, for example, if you had asked presidential candidate on the eve of an election, he knows he's going to lose, do you think you're going to win is? he's not going to say, i probably could lose. the classic formulation is to say no, i believe we're going to win. a lot of democrats feel -- it exacerbates long-existing tensions. house democrats feeling like they're not getting the attention in a fund-raising way that the senate side does. they feel like they've been given short shall rift. the senate has consistently held up and not acted on things like, for example, energy, so it's a long-standing tension that kind of boiled over with robert gibbs ' remarks. so i think what's interesting is gibbs really didn't try to back pedal from them at all by saying what i should have said is i believe democrats will win and we have to get out there and fight. he really stood by the remarks.

    >> nobody tracks this more closely that can our own luke russert on the hill.

    >> why are they so offended?

    >> reporter: first off, you have to understand the tension between the white house . one rank-and-file member told me this morning that mr. gibbs effectively threw us under the bus. house democrats feel like they have passed the obama agenda, health care , financial regulatory reform . they've taken a lot of tough votes and don't feel like the white house has been appreciative of the efforts, but the real anger with this comment arising from what house democrats are telling me is the fact that it gives republicans such a great thing to fund raise on. they can go out today, and they are i. say the president's press secretary is saying the seats are in play, that we have a chance, that will be on all these mailing lists, that will be on commercials saying that the obama white house doesn't think they can win the house or the house is in play in november. that's where a lot of house democrats have told me they are not appreciative of the fact that the white house has done that, because it gives so much ammunition in a fund-raising way. i'm interested to see how that meeting goes later this afternoon at the white house . nancy pelosi is one, as you know, behind closed doors she's one tough cookie. the mayor's daughter from baltimore, i expect she'll have a few words to say about how she feels. the meeting that occurred last night with the legislative affairs official from the white house essentially getting a beatdown from pelosi, allowing her members to go off on him. that's quite rare. she literally let it be open season on the obama white house , the closed-door caucus meeting last night. i don't think it's a stretch to say there is somewhat of a civil war right now going on within the democratic parties . andrea.

    >> and reporter the others tension is they've passed all this stuff and it sits in the senate and they are so frustrated.

    >> they always tell me there are over 400 bills that passed the house , a lot of them with republican support, that are just sitting over in the united states senate not moving anywhere. that is really frustrating, and it's now gotten to the point where pelosi and the leadership has said we're not going to move anything that's difficult anymore. that all starts at the senate, we are done walking the plank. they're leaving july 31st , will campaign in august, they're out of here october 8th . they are pretty much for all intents and purposes done with this congressional session.

    >> and they haven't even done a budget. savannah and luke , let's talk about afghanistan . there's a very important hearing this afternoon. the ranking member has come out with a statement. this is the richard holbrooke testifies on afghanistan be he goes to the region. lugar's statement already has said it's unrealistic to expect that a significant downsizing of u.s. forces could occur at that time without security consequences. the lack of clarity in afghanistan does not end with the president's timetable. savannah and luke , i wanted to play a bit of an extraordinary interview that our own rachel maddow did last night. this was her question to holbrooke in advance of today's hearing.

    >> i think the question strategically has been what can we do in year 10 that we couldn't do in years 1 through 9.

    >> it's really not ten years. it's like a little more than eight, and secondly, a lot of that time was a wholly different atmosphere. the resurgeonsens of the tal back began about five years ago and completely neglected by washington, and that's why we find ourselves in that position.

    >> savannah and luke , these are the kinds of questions he'll be asked intensively today. what about the timetable and the concerns that the administration has, going into some critical meetings in afghanistan this coming week with the nato allies.

    >> reporter: well, i mean, this has been a problem almost from the machine the president uttered this at west point. i think the problem with having a timeline like this that seems deliberately ambiguous, is that it means something difficult to everybody who hears it. you see a lot of republicans coming out and saying, wait a minute, you're putting a deadline? they'll know they can just wait it out? on the other hand, liberals, progressives want to see that -- that there is an end date just because of the very thing that rachel maddow pointed out. why do you think that something's going to change in year 8 that didn't change in the initial year? i do think this is just one of those issues that will continually be brought up, because there is so much uncertainly about it. the bottom line is they say the policy hasn't changed in july 2011 , they will start to draw down some of the surged troops. the rate of that withdrawal depends entirely on conditions on the ground.

    >> and this was another you have the questions that rachel asked about the corruption of the government in kabul, the fact that the karzai government can never be expected to stand up, and we keep pouring all this money in. let's watch.

    >> frankly, every month that goes by, we dump another $5 billion into the afghan economy, and all of i corruption and ineffectiveness, it seems like they do a harm by staying, maybe the clock has run out.

    >> i don't see evidence that people are turning away from the international presence. by the polls data does not support that, either. the feelings of desire that the international coalition, the u.s. remain remain quite high, but the people want several things, which they're very clear on. they want a system of government that is just, and so corruption becomes a huge issue, and we focused on that.

    >> are the liberals in the house , luke , going to stand with the president and keep supporting this war?

    >> reporter: that's a very interesting question, andrea. it looks like each day that goes by, with the situation in afghanistan , does not continue to get better, it is testing the patience, but also just rank-and-file house democrats that are seeing billions of dollars being poured into a country and not getting results. a lot of folks have these sort of romantic visions of restructuring the education system , passing reform legislation, all this is things cost a substantial amount of money and they would rather see it put to use in the united states rather than afghanistan . the next vote will be very interesting. the house puts in add-ones in there regarding education and border defense . there's a possibility he could lose a significant amount of democrats on the next war funding bill. remember secretary gates says they need this legislation passed before august or else the military will have to start taking financials out of its day-to-day operations and put it toward the war effort . at the end of the day , i will say if you talk to democrats privately, the patience is wearing thing in regards to the afghanistan war . a throat of folks thought that president obama would be the peacetime president, he's been very hawkish. they want to pull out of afghanistan , they will tell you that privately.

    >> that's going to be a heck of a hearing this afternoon. thanks, luke . thanks, savannah,


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