(CNN) - A top Republican's comparison of President Barack Obama to the captain of the ill-fated Costa Concordia this weekend ran aground Monday with the White House as it was sharply denounced by Press Secretary Jay Carney.
"If you are so desperate for attention that you make an analogy that Michael Steele deems inappropriate, you know you have probably gone too far," Carney said in the White House press briefing.
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Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus made the comment Sunday morning on CBS's "Face the Nation" in response to a question about in-fighting during the Republican primary.
"In a few months, this is all going to be ancient history and we're going to talk about our own little Captain Schettino, which is President Obama who's abandoning the ship here in the United States and is more interested in campaigning than doing his job as president," Priebus said.
The remarks quickly sparked controversy and prompted former RNC chairman Michael Steele to speak out against the current chairman's statement.
"I think it's an unfortunate analogy," Steele said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" on Monday. "I mean, people died in that situation."
The ship collided with rocks in shallow waters off an island on Italy's Tuscan coast on January 13.
Seventeen people are confirmed dead and 15 people remain missing while the captain, Francesco Schettino, is under house arrest and faces possible criminal charges of manslaughter, shipwreck and abandoning ship.
- CNN's Gabriella Schwarz contributed to this report.