Washington (CNN) – As President Obama heads behind closed doors Wednesday evening with House Democratic leaders for a key election-year strategy session, senior party officials said that top lawmakers are privately still fuming about White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs' declaration this weekend that Republicans could take control of Congress in November.
The senior officials said that at a private Capitol Hill meeting on Tuesday night, a string of House Democrats - including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi - expressed deep frustration that Gibbs had played into Republicans' hands by answering a hypothetical question on NBC's "Meet the Press" about whether Democrats may lose their grip on power.
In a statement that senior White House officials maintain was blindingly obvious and really not newsworthy, Gibbs said on Sunday, "I think there is no doubt there are enough seats in play - that could cause Republicans to gain control."
But senior Democratic officials on Capitol Hill said it's one thing for a pundit to state the obvious about the state of play in the election and quite another for a top White House official to offer an assessment that may depress the party's base just as officials hope to start revving liberals up.
"Members were hot - hot, hot, hot," one senior Democratic official told CNN about the private meeting Tuesday where House Democrats directed their anger at Dan Turton, a White House aide who attended the session.
A senior administration official acknowledged to CNN there was heavy tension at Tuesday's Congressional meeting, but stressed that many lawmakers also said that after expressing their frustration they now want to turn the page and do not plan to rail against the president himself at Wednesday night's meeting at the White House with Pelosi and other leaders like Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Maryland, and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, South Carolina.
That assessment was backed up by a senior Democratic aide on Capitol Hill, who told CNN: "The Speaker said last night at the meeting that members have vented but we can't let it be a distraction. We need to move on and focus on the tasks at hand."
Gibbs on Wednesday at his briefing sought to ease some of the tension by saying Pelosi's efforts have been "monumental" on behalf of the president's agenda. He also reiterated that his original comments on Sunday were meant to rally the party into coming together on showing voters there will be a sharp contrast between the Republican and Democratic agendas in November.
"On that choice we will do very well," said Gibbs, adding that he believes Democrats will keep control of both the House and Senate.
Nevertheless, Gibbs' comments sent alarm bells through the upper echelons of the Democratic party, especially because the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee on Thursday has a long-planned breakfast meeting with lobbyists who are key party fundraisers. The committee that is in charge of helping to elect House Democrats had been hoping to project momentum in advance of Friday's deadline to public reveal fundraising numbers for the first six months of this year.
The fear now among some top Democrats, in the words of one top party official, is that the Gibbs comments will "give the Republicans a big fundraising boost" as perception builds that Democrats are in even deeper trouble than already expected.
Gibbs himself has insisted all week that he was really just stating the obvious about the challenge Democrats are facing. "I think I did what is maybe uncommon in this town and yesterday I opened my mouth and stated the obvious," Gibbs said at Monday's daily press briefing with reporters. "I do not believe that you all are now scurrying around to cover this election markedly different based on my having said that there are a number of seats that are in play."
Gibbs has also stressed all week that he's merely trying to focus everyone on the fact that both parties will be offering sharply different visions of how to deal with key issues like the economy.
"You're going to have a choice between the leadership that we have now and the leadership that believes that BP should be apologized to first and foremost, and that the type of calamity wrought by the financial meltdown in the end of 2008 is analogous to the size of an ant," Gibbs said Monday. "Those are choices that the American people are going to get a chance to hear and make in November."
UPDATE: From CNN's Brianna Keilar and Deirdre Walsh
Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman, took a jab at Gibbs Wednesday, telling reporters, "People need to be aware of how their comments will be interpreted in a political environment."
Later, in an interview with CNN, Van Hollen stressed the need to move past the comments and tried to steer the focus toward criticism of Republicans.
"There is no upside to this and we need to get beyond this and focus less on what the president's spokesman said on a news show and focus on what the Republicans say they will do if they get control of the House," Van Hollen said. He said Republicans are asking voters "to send back the same guys who got the economy in the ditch to begin with."
On Wednesday evening's White House meeting – House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said Democrats need to get on the same page. "I think our message to the president is we need to be speaking obviously on message from the White House, and from the House, and I think we need to be focused on what we've done to create jobs and move the country forward."
Hoyer attempted to downplay the back and forth in wake of Robert Gibbs comments, "as I said yesterday I think we're going to win control of the House – we're going to maintain control of the House so I think any conclusion other than that is incorrect."
"I think there's some need for coordination and meeting is important to do that and that's what we're going to do."
House Republican Leader John Boehner, seized on the internal squabble among Democrats, saying the Democratic Caucus is "in chaos."
But trying to tamp down expectations about Republicans taking control, Boehner noted "I think we've got a steep hill to climb to get to the majority. We've got a lot of work to do, but it is possible."
Dina Titus, a first term Democrat from Nevada and a top target of Republicans, told CNN she didn't think the spat within her party would affect her and other vulnerable Democrats negatively.
"I'm hoping that it's going to get Democrats all enthused and they turn out even more because these are tough races," Titus said.
But she also sought to distance herself from the White House and top Democrats, saying "We're just running our own race. I'm not Obama. I'm not Reid. I'm Dina Titus and that's what we're focusing on."
Atta Boy, Gibbs. Nothing wrong with calling a spade a spade...
The democrats have had a super majority in Congress, and yet still blame republicans for all their troubles. Wimps. They have pushed through such trashy legislation, it is time to vote the bums out. Obama needs to go as well, but we're stuck until 2012–unless he gets impeached for idiocy.
With Obama sidestepping a clueless democratic controlled congress with all of his appointed Czars, it is time that we vote in the 'checks and balances' in the Congress.
I am belived that Gibbs are right his strong question than nancy or hoyer
If Pelosi thinks the Dems stand to GAIN seats rather than lose them this November, it just goes to show that she is loonier than most people thought.
They're not upset about the deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, or the housing situation, or the unemployment numbers, or oil in the gulf, or homeless families, or the national debt, or the terrorist threat, or the imbalance of trade, or Iranian nuclear capabilities.... No, the focus from now until November is political gamesmanship. In other words, THEIR jobs. What a disgrace they are.
Pelosi is just figuring out what the rest of us have already known – Gibbs is an idiot! He is honest but still an idiot!
Does gibbs know some thing that we do not know mr obama you are the chief keep your people under control
LMAO the queen is furious.
Ah HOOT, he was bound to make a mistake here or there. Please, let it go and turn the page!
Gibbs ought to be called the Disinformation Secretary. To be honest I am a little shocked Democrats would blast him publicly since he has had to carry the water for all the inept work that Obama has done over the last 18 months.
Perhaps he was trying to wake up Democrats by letting them know that they must get out there and vote. I don't think he can wake up anymore Republicans. The Democrats would have less to worry about if they did were they elected to do.
Oh my goodness,there's trouble brewing in la la land !!Gibbs has been hanging out with"foot in mouth" Biden too much and it's starting to show and Nancy just wants him to stay to her script.
Darn it. Gibbs finally said something that is true, and that makes him a republican. OFF WITH HIS HEAD! I saw that in a movie recently.
I hope they don't....but then again we're no better off in Democrat hands either. It's just business as usual.
Awwwww, cut him some slack......he usually lies very well.
Off with this Bozo's head-He's just like Ari F. from the last admin-He's cocky and too full of himself!
",,, that could cause Republicans to gain control." Note he said "could" not "will."
Gibbs is a nice and capable guy and probably speaking the truth. The party hacks in Congress can't handle the truth. They have no idea what truth is.
Since the Republicans are just as inept as the Democrats and government is just something we have to endure (like mosquitoes), send a message this way: vote against the incumbent, no matter who they are and no matter what your affiliation is. It really makes no difference anyway, but would make election night kind of fun... can you imagine all these hacks weeping on the way home?
The Democrats are just hapless, even with the Congress and White House in their grasp. I knew that when they managed to lose the seat Ted Kennedy held. I prefer the Democrats and vote for them, so I write this with regret.
Democratic leadership in the House is causing more problems for themselves by making a bigger issue out of this than the original comment. Of course the Democrats have a strong chance of losing the House this year, everyone knows this, shut up, go home. Stop beating up your own team for fessing up to the obvious.
So Gibbs is in trouble for telling the truth? Seems like that says a lot about Pelosi and this administration.
Hey now, average America isn't as dumb as some think. We know democrats are going to have a tough fight. Even if it was hypothetical, he gave an answer to that question and didn't lie. I'm liberal but come on now, win some people by admitting things without fancy language to decode.
How ironic would that be for republicans to use Gibs words, which hold truth, in a campaign slogan that wouldn't involved a bending of words.
For once Gibbs tells the truth and the dems are all over him.
It's a good thing humans are bipeds, otherwise Democrats would have to shoot themselves in more feet.
The truth hurts, Liberals, suck it up and deal with it. Especially you, Pelosi, thou who art higher than all of us (in your own eyes).