Jindal, Obama Face Off Over Gulf

Frustrations are mounting while the clean up of oil in the Gulf of Mexico lags. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican, is one of the biggest critics of the disaster response. He places blame on the White House and BP, the oil company taking responsibility for the spill. The White House though is firing back saying Gov. Jindal is not doing enough to find solutions himself. Host Michel Martin talks with Corey Dade of the Wall Street Journal about who has the most to gain in this political finger pointing.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

We're going to talk more about the political and personal repercussions of that massive oil spill in the Gulf.

Now, a lot of people have been talking about the impact on the economy, the culture and of course the wildlife. In a few minutes, we'll tell you about a group of people for whom the spill could end a centuries' old way of life: United Houma Nation. This is a Native American tribe that lives on the Louisiana coast. It's been their home for centuries. Now having survived a long history of natural disasters and conflicts, the Gulf oil spill could be the event that changes everything. We'll hear from the principal chief of the Houma in a few minutes.

But first, as these thousands of barrels of oil continue to seep into the Gulf every day, the political atmosphere on land is starting to sound like a schoolyard game gone wrong, where the finger of blame is pointing in all directions.

Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, a rising star in the Republican Party, has stepped up as a staunch critic of the Obama administration's response to the Gulf spill. Here's Jindal earlier this week.

Governor BOBBY JINDAL (Republican, Louisiana): Our message to our federal government is we want their help in holding BP accountable. BP by law is the responsible party, but they're not acting responsibly. We need the federal government to hold them responsible. Our federal government does not need to be making excuses for BP. Every day they wait, every day they make us wait, we're losing our battle to protect our coast.

MARTIN: Again, that was Louisiana governor, Bobby Jindal. Corey Dade covers the southern states for the Wall Street Journal. He's been writing about this brewing conflict, including the push back from the White House. He's with us now from Georgia Public Broadcasting in Atlanta. Corey, welcome. Thanks for joining us.

Mr. COREY DADE (Reporter, Wall Street Journal): Thank you, Michel.

MARTIN: Now, you just returned from Louisiana, where Governor Bobby Jindal, as I understand it, is going out every day, just about every day to inspect the damage. First of all, why is he doing that? And what exactly is his beef with the federal government? What does he think they should be doing that they're not doing?

Mr. DADE: Nearly every day he goes out, yes. He usually takes a helicopter from Baton Rouge, which is the state capital, and goes down to some part of the coast and gets on a boat or stays in the helicopter and looks at sort of the latest with the oil spill. And he's been very willing to bring media along with him to make his case.

Beyond that, his gripe in general with the government is slow response. And by slow response I mean the federal government either not responding directly with resources or not pushing BP to respond with resources to clean up the oil that's already there on the Barrier Islands, but also to protect the rest of the coastline in Louisiana from the encroaching oil to prevent it from getting to the mainland.

MARTIN: Can you give us an example of what resources he thinks should be brought to bear that have not been brought to bear?

Mr. DADE: Well, for starters, at this point, the biggest resource is money. He wants sand berms, these are temporary barriers, built all along the hundred miles of coastline for Louisiana just inside the Barrier Islands to protect the rest of the coast, to protect basically the mainland for Louisiana from receiving oil. And they want to protect their wetlands which is, of course, the source of their huge fisheries industries.

So, what he wants - in order to do that, he needs to get federal approval from the Coast Guard. And in the process, if he can do that, then the Coast Guard can compel BP to pay for it. So he made this request going on a month ago. And initially he was expecting a response in a matter of days.

It just came yesterday, the federal government has finally agreed after saying that it was resistant, there was no proof that these berms could work. They finally agreed to it, but not until Bobby Jindal and a few of the local officials raised cane for days and days accusing them of sitting on their hands.

And quite frankly, the continuing images of oil just soaking into some critical marshlands area has been evidence enough that the administration has to act. So, now they're doing it.

MARTIN: Now, well, what has been the response to Jindal both politically and in terms of his specific requests. And of course everybody, it has to be noted that everybody here is operating under the shadow of the history of Hurricane Katrina.

Mr. DADE: Right.

MARTIN: We are all parties, federal, state and local were criticized and the political parties were reversed. So it was a Republican in the White House and there was a Democrat in the governor's office in Louisiana. Now that situation is reversed. But - so how is the White House responding to this?

Mr. DADE: Well, the White House was fairly quiet for quite a while from, and did not respond to Jindal's sort of aggressive tactics. But as Jindal has dialed up the heat, overall the administration has pushed back in all areas. And at this point, you know, the administration has kind of a delicate balance. It has to keep the pressure up on BP and show the public it's taking action and become more responsive to Jindal in particular.

But at the same time, it's still depending heavily on BP itself in its technical expertise to stop the leak. And so in the effort to show that they are certainly engaged and certainly in control of this process, they have started to talk a little bit publicly, but certainly offline to reporters, talking about Jindal perhaps making too much noise to the point where he's not necessarily in the minds of the administration. He's not necessarily taking care of his end.

By that I mean calling out a sufficient number of National Guard troops, distributing or paying distributing and using the money, the millions, the $25 million that was received from BP to the state to actually continue their preparation efforts. That's the sort of pushback from the administration. And now that they've responded, the administration is sort of saying, okay, you're getting what you want, it's time to quiet down.

MARTIN: And what about the fact that Bobby Jindal's made his bones as it were, as a small government conservative? I mean, I think he first came to national attention when he was asked to offer the response to President Obama's first State of the Union address. His performance was widely panned as being wooden and just unpersuasive and now of course he's come to national attention again for his sort of passionate engagement here. But then the point has been made that his whole political identity has been of one of a small government conservative. Now he's demanding that the federal government do more.

So, I'm wondering how and obviously one doesn't want to just imply that this is only a political issue here, but I am interested in how the politics are playing out. How are the constituents, for example, responding to this? How is this playing politically?

Mr. DADE: Well, locally in Louisiana, Jindal is still fairly popular. And he certainly ran on not letting Katrina happen again. That was his campaign pledge and also to clean up government and he's done that to a large degree. Now going forward, you know, here he is for the Louisianans, he hasn't gone anywhere, of course. But for the rest of the nation, the only image they have of him, really, was that rebuttal speech that he certainly didn't come off well in.

And so now he does, you know, it's a no-brainer for him to get on board and sort of lead this fight for more federal response. Locally in Louisiana, people on the coast have no problem. They feel like he's filling the gap created by the federal government.

MARTIN: And speaking of just very briefly if you would, his specific proposals for addressing this oil spill, are those credible to the degree that you feel comfortable saying? Do you think are his ideas credible? The sand berms, for example. Any idea?

Mr. DADE: Yeah. Sand berms in general from the reporting that I've done, the evidence is clear that sand berms had been used for a variety of different purposes, obviously to block debris and certain kinds of currents from disrupting the wetlands. In this case, there is science out there that raise the question about whether or not they're effective.

Jindal and local parish presidents who have used these berms to protect their coast. Point to examples, there in Louisiana right off the coast that show that these berms have been effective.

MARTIN: Wow.

Mr. DADE: So you don't get any argument from anyone locally.

MARTIN: All right, well keep us posted. Corey Dade is a reporter for the Wall Street Journal. He joined us from Georgia Public Broadcasting in Atlanta. Corey, thank you.

Mr. DADE: Thank you.

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