As President Barack Obama prepares to address Congress and the nation this week on his goals for health care overhaul, he's facing fire on several fronts -- the unexpected resignation of his "green jobs" adviser Anthony "Van" Jones and his speech to school children Tuesday that has sparked outrage from the right.
The White House tried to put the Jones controversy behind it as quickly as possible. His resignation was released in the middle of the night, just after midnight, on a holiday weekend. But it hasn't been able to quell questions about the behavior of Obama's special adviser at the Council on Environmental Quality.
"This shows a real weakness in the vetting of lower-level officials," said Mike Allen, chief political correspondent at Politico.com. "They were so interested in filling jobs they did not look into the past statements of people the way they would have for top-level people, and what we saw here, the right, if they focus on a specific person, can do real damage."
"I understand he was pretty good at it, but it came back to haunt him," Allen said on "Good Morning America" today.
Jones, 40, had been hailed by many influential politicians, such as Al Gore, for his efforts to create jobs related to renewable energy, such as wind and solar power. But it was his comments and activities outside his official position that made him fodder for attacks by Republicans, and eventually cost him his job.
In 2004, Jones signed a petition called the "911 Truth Statement, a call for immediate inquiry into evidence that suggests high-level government officials may have deliberately allowed the September 11th attacks to occur." The best-selling author of "The Green Collar Economy" was also caught on tape, now circulating widely on YouTube, making derogatory comments about Republicans.
"You've never seen a Columbine done by a black child," Jones, who's African-American, said in the 2005 video. "Never. They always say, 'We can't believe it happened here. We can't believe these suburban white kids.' It's only them."
The environmental advocate apologized for his remarks, which conservatives labeled racist, and White House officials said he had not properly read the statement on 9/11 before signing it. But with Republicans seizing on the evidence mounting against him, and the president already falling in his approval ratings, Jones' defense was not enough.
"We have told you he's an avowed radical communist, revolutionary," conservative commentator Glenn Beck, who rallied against Jones last week, said on his cable TV program.
Jones, a Yale law school graduate, whom Time magazine named this year as one of its 100 most influential people, said he was the target of a smear campaign to derail the administration's real message.
"On the eve of historic fights for health care and clean energy, opponents of reform have mounted a vicious smear campaign against me," he said in a written statement announcing his resignation. "They are using lies and distortions to distract and divide. I have been inundated with calls -- from across the political spectrum -- urging me to 'stay and fight.' But I came here to fight for others, not for myself. I cannot in good conscience ask my colleagues to expend precious time and energy defending or explaining my past. We need all hands on deck, fighting for the future."
The White House tried to distance itself from Jones, and said the decision to resign was his alone.