Obama aide apologizes for GOP-Jonestown comparison

John Podesta moderates a panel discussion during a conference commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Center for American Progress at the Astor Ballroom of the St. Regis Hotel October 24, 2013 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images

A key conservative House Republican called on President Obama Wednesday to fire his new adviser, John Podesta, after Podesta compared the House GOP to members of the Jonestown cult who were responsible for 918 deaths in 1978.

In the interview, which occurred in earlier this fall, before he was tapped by the president, Podesta told Politico the administration should “focus on executive action, given that they are facing a second term cult worth of Jonestown in charge of one of the houses of Congress.” Podesta, the founder of a progressive think tank and a onetime White House chief of staff under former President Bill Clinton, was advising the White House to sidestep a fractious Congress to enact its agenda, but his comparison, predictably, didn’t sit well with House Republicans.

“It's disgraceful and telling that President Obama's new Counselor is not only comparing the Republican Party to a cult that murdered those who disagreed with them, but is also using that comparison as an argument in support of shredding the Constitution and governing like a third-world dictator,” said Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., the influential chair of the Republican Study Committee, in a statement. “President Obama ran to change the tone in Washington, and it’s time for him to live up to that promise by relieving Mr. Podesta of his official duties immediately.”

A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, chimed in with his own condemnation. “For those who’ve forgotten, a Democratic member of Congress was murdered in Jonestown and a current one, Rep. Jackie Speier, was shot five times during the same incident,” Brendan Buck said in a statement to reporters. “If this is the attitude of the new White House, it’s hard to see how the president gets anything done again.”

Podesta apologized via Twitter on Wednesday after his combustible remarks caught fire. “In an old interview, my snark got in front of my judgment,” he wrote. “I apologize to Speaker Boehner, whom I have always respected.”

In 1978, 909 people died in an apparent mass suicide orchestrated by the so-called Jonestown cult in Guyana. In separate incidents on the same day, members of the Jonestown cult killed nine people at two other locations in the South American country, including then-Rep. Leo Ryan, D-Calif.

Ryan’s aide at the time, Jackie Speier, is now a Democratic congresswoman from California.



  • Jake Miller

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