WASHINGTON -- Facing criticism from House Democrats, the White House circulated a memo Wednesday that details all the political help that President Barack 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 came as congressional Democrats, fearing disaster in the fall elections, have expressed frustration with the Obama team and its effort to help Democrats.
In a meeting Tuesday with rank-and-file members, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi lashed out over White House spokesman Robert Gibbs' recent comments that Republicans could win a majority, according to an aide who was present. The aide spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting was private.
On Wednesday, Gibbs defended his remark about the House, but hastened to add that he doesn't think that will happen. "I don't think I said anything that was politically shocking," Gibbs said during his daily briefing with reporters.
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 a tough primary challenge.
House Democratic leaders, critical of Obama's political team, were set to raise their concerns during a White House meeting Thursday evening. They also planned to talk with the president about Gibbs, who is both the administration's top spokesman and a senior adviser who started working for Obama during his 2004 Senate campaign.