The White House offered the most tepid of endorsements Friday of Van Jones, the administration’s top adviser on green jobs, after conservative critics began circulating videos of him using expletives to describe Republicans and comparing former President George W. Bush’s calls for oil exploration to “a crack head trying to lick the crack pipe for a fix.”
The strongest objections began swirling with the unearthing of an October 2004 petition he is purported to have signed. It called for an investigation into whether there was government complicity in the Sept. 11 attacks. Mr. Jones says he never believed the government played a role in the 2001 attacks.
When asked whether a White House that has fought hard to dispel conspiracy theories about President Obama would keep Mr. Jones in a top administration post, press secretary Robert Gibbs would say only that Mr. Jones “continues to work in this administration.”
Pressed further, Mr. Gibbs referred reporters to a statement Mr. Jones released in his own defense.
“If I have offended anyone with statements I made in the past, I apologize,” Mr. Jones’ statement said.
“As for the petition that was circulated today, I do not agree with this statement, and it certainly does not reflect my views now or ever. My work at the Council on Environmental Quality is entirely focused on one goal: building clean-energy incentives which create 21st century jobs that improve energy efficiency and use renewable resources.”
The sudden attention to Mr. Jones’ inflammatory statements marked the second time in as many days that the Obama administration found itself fending off full-throated attacks originating on conservative talk radio, television talk shows and right-leaning Web sites.
Earlier in the week, the complaints were about a U.S. Education Department recommendation that teachers nationwide assign students a paper on how to “help the president” after a video address by Mr. Obama Tuesday. Republicans and conservative organizations accused Mr. Obama of trying to politicize the education system in the speech the White House says will only urge students to stay in school and work hard.
“I am concerned about the theme of obedience to government throughout the Obama administration’s ‘Menu of Classroom Activities,’ ” Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, Maryland Republican, said in a statement Friday, in which he urged parents to go with their children to school to watch the speech.
The White House, which helped draft the language in the recommendation, late Wednesday acknowledged it was poorly worded and changed it to say students should “write letters to themselves about how they can achieve their short-term and long-term education goals. These would be collected and redistributed at an appropriate later date by the teacher to make students accountable to their goals.”
White House officials objected strongly to criticism about the speech Friday. Mr. Gibbs called it a byproduct of “the silly season.”
“If ‘stay in school’ is a political message, somebody should tell the NBA,” he said. The White House did say it will make the speech available Monday so parents can see it beforehand.
But school districts nationwide, which are not required to air Mr. Obama’s address, have fielded some complaints from parents about the program, and a few have opted not to show it. Several school districts, including those in the Washington area, are giving principals and teachers the option to participate. Loudoun County, Va., public schools will not show it, but the district said the decision was made because of the hectic back-to-school schedule.
“As far as I am concerned, this is not civics education - it gives the appearance of creating a cult of personality,” Oklahoma Republican state Sen. Steve Russell told the Associated Press. “This is something you’d expect to see in North Korea or in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.”
The White House was less aggressive in pushing back when questioned about Mr. Jones’ remarks.