The Obama administration is not conducting an investigation to identify the senior official who called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "chickenshit," despite criticism from both Republicans and Democrats.
The insult has roiled U.S. and Israeli relations and sparked anger on Capitol Hill.
Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerPaul Ryan sells out conservatives with healthcare surrender Matt Schlapp: 5 lessons Trump, Ryan must learn from healthcare debate Nunes rebuffs calls for recusal MORE (R-Ohio) earlier Wednesday suggested the president should fire whomever was responsible. And Rep. Eliot Engel (N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he was “shocked and disappointed” by the language, calling it “counterproductive and unprofessional.”
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said he did not know who the leaker was, and that he doubted President Obama was aware of their identity. He suggested the administration was unlikely to hunt for the source of the quote.
"The fact is anonymous comments like that, on a range of issues, are not particularly unique," Earnest told reporters at his daily press briefing.
"A lot of you spend a lot of time talking to administration officials and trying to discern what those individuals have to say or what those individuals have to say and how it reflects on United States policy,” he continued. “And what I can tell you here, on the record and on camera, is that those comments do not reflect the United States’ position and they do not reflect the personal views of the president of the United States."
In a story by The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg, senior administration officials vented their frustrations with Netanyahu, describing him as more overly concerned with his own political future.
"The good thing about Netanyahu is that he’s scared to launch wars,” one official said, expanding on his "chickenshit" insult.
"The bad thing about him is that he won’t do anything to reach an accommodation with the Palestinians or with the Sunni Arab states," the official added. "The only thing he’s interested in is protecting himself from political defeat. He’s not [Yitzhak] Rabin, he’s not [Ariel] Sharon, he’s certainly no [Menachem] Begin. He’s got no guts."
Earnest was pressed by Fox News White House correspondent Ed Henry on why the administration had so aggressively pursued investigations of national security leakers but did not seem concerned about the "chickenshit" comment.
Earnest said he was "mostly concerned" with simply "making sure that everybody understands the administration’s commitment to a principle about legitimate journalism, and this administration’s commitment to the ongoing security relationship that exists between the United States and Israel."
He added that the "most effective way for us to deal with a situation" like this controversy was to convey publicly how the administration actually felt about Israel.
But critics said the administration must do more to undo the damage.
"He either condones the profanity and disrespect used by the most senior members of his administration, or he does not," Boehner said, calling for the official to be fired. "It is time for him to get his house in order and tell the people that can’t muster professionalism that it is time to move on.”
The White House dismissed that suggestion, pointing to Boehner's own history of colorful language.
"It’s an interesting observation by the Speaker of the House, whom you all know has a penchant for using some pretty salty language himself," Earnest said. "So it’s a little rich to have a lecture about profanity from the Speaker of the House."