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As Spill Gets Bigger, So Does White House PR Problem

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As Spill Gets Bigger, So Does White House PR Problem

Environment

As Spill Gets Bigger, So Does White House PR Problem

As Spill Gets Bigger, So Does White House PR Problem

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/127095934/127095899" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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On Monday, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal pleaded for the administration to send more equipment and to quickly approve his plan for man-made sand berms to protect the fragile Gulf shoreline from the encroaching tide of BP oil.

His comments came as the White House is desperately battling the impression that the administration is not doing enough — or doing it fast enough — to solve the problem.

A delegation of U.S. senators and Cabinet secretaries were in the Gulf on Monday, surveying the areas affected by the oil spill. Afterward, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar repeated the aggressive metaphor he's been using for weeks — saying the administration will keep its boot on the neck of BP.

"This is a BP mess. It is a horrible mess. It is a massive environmental mess," he said, adding that the company would be held accountable "both civilly and in whatever way is necessary, and we will not rest until the job is done."

The White House is well aware of the political peril the oil spill poses. Officials have been sending daily e-mails documenting what they call "The Ongoing Administration-Wide Response to the Deepwater Horizon BP Oil Spill."

But the longer the spill goes uncapped and the greater the environmental damage, the harder it will be for the White House to look competent and effective.

The man in charge of the administration's operation in the Gulf, U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Thad Allen, was the guest at White House press secretary Robert Gibbs' daily briefing Monday.

"I've been involved with the technical decisions made, especially in relation to deal with the leak," Allen said, "and they are pressing ahead, we are overseeing them. They are exhausting every technical means possible to deal with that leak."

Mixed Messages

One of the problems is that the White House has been sending mixed messages about its partnership with BP.

For example, in front of BP headquarters in Houston on Sunday, Salazar said: "BP, again, is a responsible party and ... is on the hook to doing everything that needs to happen. If we find that they're not doing what they're supposed to be doing, we'll push them out of the way appropriately."

But White House officials admit they can't realistically push BP out of the way — they are completely dependent on BP for the equipment and expertise to stop the spill. As Allen himself explained at the White House briefing, "To push BP out of the way would raise the question: replace them with what?"

Criticism From Both Sides

The administration is being buffeted from both sides of the political spectrum over the spill.

Jindal, Louisiana's Republican governor, complained Monday that he hasn't been sent enough of the floating boom he requested, and the state's Republican senator, David Vitter, said his Democratic colleagues were not giving enough attention to the spill.

And Democratic strategist James Carville, a Louisiana resident, said on CNN that the government is "naive."

"I think that the government thinks they're partnering with BP," he said. "I think they actually believe that BP has some kind of good motivation here. And that's one of the sort of whole flaws — is they're naive."

Carville said the administration wasn't treating the spill as a disaster of the first order.

The Waiting Game

At a news conference in Barataria Bay, Jindal said Louisiana was tired of waiting and would go ahead and build the sand berms itself.

"It is clear that we don't have the resources we need to protect our coast," Jindal said. "Every day that this oil sits and waits for cleanup is one more day that more of our marsh dies."

The White House is also in a race against time. The spill is still gushing more than one month after the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig, and every day the spill gets bigger, more people will ask whether the government could have done more and didn't.