White House on defense after press secretary criticizes 'professional left'

The White House was on the defensive Tuesday after press secretary Robert Gibbs lashed out at liberals he dubbed the "professional left," saying some of them should be drug-tested.

Gibbs contended that some progressives critical of President Barack Obama wouldn't be satisfied until the Pentagon was eliminated and Canadian-style health care ushered into the U.S. Some of them wouldn't even be happy if anti-war congressman Dennis Kucinich were president, according to Gibbs.

His comments appeared Tuesday in "The Hill" newspaper.

Standing in for Gibbs at the daily White House press briefing, Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton downplayed the comments, saying Gibbs simply "answered honestly" in a conversation with a reporter.

"Is there ever some frustration from anyone who works in this building about the way it's being covered? Sure," Burton said when asked if Gibbs' comments reflected Obama's views.

"But that doesn't distract us from the very serious work that we've got to do to keep the American people safe and keep the American economy growing. So I would just say that our focus today isn't one article in a Hill publication."

Burton said Gibbs had a sore throat and his absence from the briefing was unrelated to angry blow-back from left-wing bloggers and others. One Democratic congressman, Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., told the Huffington Post that Gibbs should resign.

"I don't think there's any danger of that," said Burton.

Among Gibbs' comments: "I hear these people saying (Obama's) like George Bush. Those people ought to be drug tested. I mean, it's crazy."

It wasn't the first time Gibbs has ticked off Democrats. Last month he angered them by saying on a Sunday talk show that Republicans could take back control of the House.

Progressive groups have been frustrated with Obama almost since the outset of his presidency over issues including the health care bill, which they contend didn't go far enough to provide government-run insurance, and Obama's failure to move more quickly to end the military's "don't ask don't tell" policy on gays in the military.

Democrats at the White House and on Capitol Hill, in turn, have been frustrated by that frustration, arguing they've delivered for liberals on many issues. Obama himself addressed the issue at a fundraiser in Dallas Monday for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

"Sometimes Democrats, we're our own worst enemies, because we can do great stuff and somehow still feel depressed," Obama said. "Sometimes we do a little too much handwringing. Say, well, you know, I don't know, I wish we had gotten that public option. Well, that's great, but we got 31 million people health insurance."