Today's Beltway Brouhaha: The Time John Podesta Compared the GOP to an Infamous Suicide Cult

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Dec. 18 2013 1:07 PM

Today's Beltway Brouhaha: The Time John Podesta Compared the GOP to an Infamous Suicide Cult

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US military personnel remove bags containing bodies of members of the Jim Jones-led cult who took their lives at a mass suicide in Guyana in 1978

File photo by AFP/Getty Images

John Podesta was named as a new senior-level adviser to President Obama a little more than a week ago, prompting plenty of speculation about how the former Clinton aide might represent something of a White House reboot that could focus on any and everything from climate change to Area 51. But regardless of what Podesta means for Obama's remaining time in office, it's already become clear what he means for the current Beltway news cycle: The discovery of an old, inflammatory dig at the other side, followed by a present-day apology.

The quote in question was featured in a profile of Podesta that was published late Tuesday in Politico Magazine, in which Podesta compared congressional Republicans to the infamous Jim Jones-led cult the Peoples Temple, a group best known for a 1978 cyanide poisoning that claimed the lives of more than 900 followers in a settlement (dubbed Jonestown) in Guyana. Here's the snippet in question from the Glenn Thrush-authored profile that had people talking this morning (emphasis mine):

This is not just about providing added muscle to a beleaguered and undermanned West Wing staff. According to interviews in recent weeks with an array of Obama insiders and a dozen current and former senior aides, Podesta’s hire is explicitly meant to shake things up inside the White House. In effect, I was told, it represents the clearest sign to date of the administration’s interest in shifting the paradigm of Obama’s presidency through the forceful, unapologetic and occasionally provocative application of White House power. Podesta, whose official mandate includes enforcement of numerous executive orders on emissions and the environment, suggested as much when he spoke with me earlier this fall about Obama’s team. “They need to focus on executive action given that they are facing a second term against a cult worthy of Jonestown in charge of one of the houses of Congress,” he told me.

That quote, as Thrush writes, was made "earlier this fall"—aka before Podesta took his new White House gig this month. Still, it's caused a minor stir within the Beltway on a slow news day like today, thanks in part to some umbrage-taking from House Republicans. "If this is the attitude of the new White House, it's hard to see how the president gets anything done again," said John Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck.

Podesta, for his part, was quick to issue an apology this morning. "In an old interview, my snark got in front of my judgment. I apologize to Speaker Boehner, whom I have always respected," the former Clinton aide posted on his Twitter account.

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Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. Follow him on Twitter.