House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the driving force behind the Obama agenda in Congress, sharply criticized White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs during a closed-door House Democratic caucus meeting late Tuesday, according to Democratic sources.
Pelosi, irked since Sunday by what she and other top Democrats considered Gibbs' careless and dismissive comments that Democrats could lose their House majority this November, upbraided a top White House aide as she knocked Gibbs' unwelcome handicapping of House races.
"How could he [Gibbs] know what's going on in our districts?" Pelosi said, according to Democrats who attended the meeting. "Some may weigh his words more closely than others. We have made our disagreements known to the White House."
Senior Pelosi staff contacted the White House Monday to express displeasure with Gibbs' statement on "Meet the Press" that Democrats could lose the majority won in 2006 after 12 years out of power.
Pelosi aides and operatives at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee were told, according to sources, that Gibbs would "walk back" his dire prediction at Monday's White House briefing. Instead, Gibbs said he was merely -- and, by Washington standards, courageously -- stating "the obvious."
That declaration deepened the sense of House Democratic alienation from Gibbs that boiled over with tonight's rare broadside from Pelosi. But this wasn't the only manifestation of Democratic pique.
House Democratic leaders encouraged rank-and-file party members to vent their anger at White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, a key architect of the successful Democratic plan to win back the House in 2006, Deputy White House Chief of Staff Jim Messina, Political Director Patrick Gaspard and the head of White House legislative affairs Phil Schiliro. Schiliro is a former senior aide to Rep. Henry Waxman, the powerful chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee and a Pelosi ally.
"There was no doubt where we, meaning the caucus, stood," a top Democratic aide said.
In the past two days, House leaders Steny Hoyer, the majority leader, and Chris Van Hollen, head of the DCCC, have declared Democrats will retain their majority.
"I don't think we will lose the House," Hoyer said Tuesday.
Republicans need 39 seats to win back the majority, a threshold non-partisan analysts say is within reach. Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine said Tuesday Republicans could win 28 seats, a much higher figure than he's previously acknowledged.
In tonight's caucus meeting, according to Democratic sources, Pelosi asked Dan Turton, one of Obama's top House legislative advisers, to acknowledge Gibbs' comment provoked unhelpful speculation about a potential midterm power shift.
Gibbs did not attend the meeting. One top Democratic aide described Gibbs performance this week as "quite astonishing."
Another Democratic consultant who works closely with the DCCC said officials there and within the party's fundraising ranks were worried Gibbs' comments could dampen enthusiasm and reduce contributions from Washington's K Street lobbyists, who might steer more money to the GOP, and grassroots activists.
The strategist described rank-and-file House Democrats as "livid."
"They feel thrown under the bus," the strategist said.
The feud occured a day before Obama is due to plot legislative strategy with House Democratic leaders at the White House.
"Should be an interesting meeting," a top House Democratic aide said dryly.
One thing that might defuse the tension: Pelosi's contention at the end of tonight's caucus meeting that, no matter the current friction, Democrats should not be distracted by "friendly fire."
Pelosi and other top Democrats believe Obama should doggedly protect a House majority that has delivered on every White House priority: health care, energy, new financial regulations, campaign finance, stimulus and extending unemployment insurance and existing business tax breaks.
Obama has dispatched Vice President Biden to headline fund-raisers for individual House Democrats. Obama has focused most of his personal fund-raising efforts on Senate races. Obama has headlined two DCCC fund-raisers and the Democratic National Committee, at the behest of the White House, this week sent $667,000 to the DCCC.