Is The Oil Spill Tarring Obama?

This oil spill seems to be dragging down the president's approval ratings, but is it a threat to his presidency? The crisis is being compared to the Bush administration's response to Hurricane Katrina. Host Liane Hansen asks NPR News Analyst Juan Williams whether that's a fair comparison.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

NPR News analyst Juan Williams is in our Washington studio to talk about the politics of the oil spill. Hi, Juan.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Liane.

HANSEN: Juan, we just heard how this crisis is affecting those who live and work along the Gulf Coast. But from a political perspective, how serious a threat does this crisis pose to Obama's presidency? It seems to be dragging down his approval ratings.

WILLIAMS: Well, approval ratings are absolutely critical to his sense of authority. And what we know from a Pew Research poll that was done about two weeks ago, he had about 36 percent disapproval when it came to his handling of this crisis in the Gulf. Now, this week, CNN had a poll that found that 51 percent of Americans disapproved of his handling.

So what we're seeing is a loss of credibility and authority, by extension. The American people sense that something is not present here. Some of the critics say it's a lack of emotion - that he's a cool guy. And you know what? Cool doesn't play here. We need somebody who can just throw their fist down on the table and scream and somehow express the public outrage at what's going on there and the public frustration.

The difficulty here is that he needs, I think, for his administration to continue on, a stronger sense of that emotional factor maybe more than anything else.

HANSEN: The Obama administration's handling of this crisis is constantly compared to the Bush administration's response to Hurricane Katrina. Is that a fair comparison?

WILLIAMS: You know, I don't think so, Liane. You know, just speaking here as an analyst, I don't see it as the same in any way. I think that you had there a manmade disaster in both instances - Katrina and the oil spill - but in the case of Katrina, it was quite defined. You know, the incident happened, it was over and then it was a question of having the government recognize the impact on people and going out.

In this situation, the administration says BP misled them about the extent of the damage. They didn't know and, again, they didn't understand the amount of oil spilling or that it was going to continue for this period time. And they thought BP had the expertise, which is what the president said in his press conference on Friday at the White House. He said, you know, if I'm wrong, what I was wrong is believing that the oil companies had a worst case scenario and were prepared for it.

HANSEN: Now, as we know, BP's latest effort has failed. And since the administration is relying on BP to contain and clean up the oil that's spilling into the Gulf, how hard can they go on the company? Because the president himself has said that the government doesn't have the technology BP does to do the job.

WILLIAMS: Well, the White House has a proposal to increase the amount to which BP is liable for the damages. The second thing they can do is to begin to investigate whether or not there's legal action - Justice Department type action to be taken against BP for negligence in this matter, and then Halliburton and others who were involved in the construction.

So they've got to go hard. And I think he's got to go hard for just the question you asked at the top, Liane, in order to maintain his credibility as the representative of the American people, as the president.

HANSEN: And just one question. People have said we need to get the military involved. The Coast Guard is involved.

WILLIAMS: Absolutely, been involved from the beginning. Remember when 11 people were killed on that rig.

You know, some of the people who are dragging down the president's approval rating include Democrats like James Carville who say: We're dying down here, get down here. The president is saying, you know, we've been down here and anybody who doesn't know that doesn't know the facts.

HANSEN: NPR News analyst Juan Williams. Juan, thanks a lot.

WILLIAMS: Have a good day, Liane.

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