Van Jones, School Speech Top List of Distractions for Obama

The White House tried to distance itself from Jones, and said the decision to resign was his alone.

When asked by ABC News' George Stephanopoulos if the president endorsed what Jones said, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said, "He doesn't but he thanks him for his service.

"What Van Jones decided was that the agenda of this president was bigger than any one individual. The president thanks Van Jones for his service in the first eight months helping to coordinate renewable-energy jobs and lay the foundation for our future economic problem," Gibbs said Sunday on "This Week with George Stephanopoulos."

Obama's other advisers also making the rounds on Sunday talk shows declined to discuss whether they thought Jones was the target of a smear campaign and what the president had to say about the controversy.

"I haven't spoken to the president about this," White House senior adviser David Axelrod said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "As you know, this -- this thing has bubbled up in the last few days and, frankly, my conversations with the president have mostly been about health care, which is where our focus should be right now."

But others outside of the administration defended Jones.

"This guy is a Yale-educated lawyer," Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said on "Fox News Sunday."

"He's a best-selling author about his specialty. I think he was brought down, I think it's too bad. Washington is a tough place that way."

White House's Lesson Plans Spark Controversy

The Jones controversy has been a distraction from what could be a critical week for the president on health care legislation, and it's not what the White House wants to focus on. With his poll numbers falling, the president will take the dramatic step of addressing a joint session of Congress Wednesday to turn around the debate.

"If he is perceived to fail on health care, it is going to raise significant questions about leadership, his leadership and really, when you get down to it, that's what the presidency is about," said political analyst Stuart Rothenberg of The Rothenberg Political Report.

To add to the list of message distractions this week, the president's planned speech to school children Tuesday is also taking some heat and being boycotted by some school districts and parents.

At the center of the debate is the White House's lesson plan, which suggested that students write a letter about how they could "help the president."

"Shouldn't it be a speech in prime time in our homes to all of us? With Parents? Do I need to go to my child's school and embarrass her in front of her friends and watch it with her?" said one parent, Mike Ballou of the Douglas County schools in Colorado.

President George H.W. Bush made a similar call during his presidency, asking schoolchildren to write a letter to him stating how they could help him achieve his goals.

The White House seems befuddled by the push back on the school speech. One official called the debate silly. Today, officials will release a transcript, hoping to prove that the president's speech to the nation's youngsters on the value of studying and going to school is not a political speech.

"What this pointed to is the fact there is a real distrust out in the country of this president," Politico's Allen said. "That it's not a 50-50 country. That it's not an Obama nation and that's what we saw bubbling up this summer with health care as the catalyst."

Allen added that the president will really have to hone his message on health care when he appears before Congress Wednesday.

"Over the next 60 hours, the president has to figure out, 'am I going to be a leader or a legislator, or will I say something clear and convincing or be vague and defensive?'" Allen said. "They're still working this out."

ABC News' Huma Khan contributed to this report.

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