Obama aide apologizes for comparing Republicans to Jonestown suicide-cult
Obama (AFP)

A veteran Democratic operative recently signed up to revitalize the Obama administration apologized Wednesday after comparing Republicans to a cult which perpetrated a mass murder-suicide.

John Podesta, a former chief of staff for ex-president Bill Clinton, will work for the White House for a year to try to unblock President Barack Obama's jammed second-term agenda.

Republicans pounced Tuesday after Podesta was quoted by the Politico news organization saying that Obama was facing a "cult worthy of Jonestown in charge of one of the houses of Congress."

The Jonestown massacre in 1978 in Guyana included the killing of a US member of Congress and also saw 900 people die in a mass suicide pact among devotees of an agrarian cult which moved from California to create a utopian world.

As a Washington political storm erupted, Republicans took the opportunity to score points off Obama's new advisor.

"If this is the attitude of the new White House, it's hard to see how the president gets anything done again," said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner.

Podesta, a veteran of swiftly building Washington outrages, quickly took steps to calm the row.

"In an old interview, my snark got in front of my judgment. I apologize to Speaker Boehner, whom I have always respected," Podesta said on Twitter.

The brouhaha over Podesta's remark, made in an interview earlier this year, will likely fade as soon as the next political brushfire breaks out.

But it is a window into the deep antipathy between the two parties in divided Washington, where Democrats control the Senate and the White House and Republicans run the House of Representatives.