As Spill Gets Bigger, So Does White House PR ProblemThe White House is desperately battling the impression that the administration is not doing enough — or doing it fast enough — to stop the oil spill in the Gulf. But at the same time, officials are offering mixed messages about BP's role.
As Spill Gets Bigger, So Does White House PR Problem
A boat uses a boom and absorbent material to soak up oil in Cat Bay, near Grand Isle, La., on June 28. A tropical storm is expected to hit the Gulf and impede cleanup efforts.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and wife Carole Rome Crist (right) stand with others during a Hands Across the Sand event June 26 in Pensacola, Fla. The event was staged across the nation to protest offshore oil drilling.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Oil clouds the surface of Barataria Bay near Port Sulpher, La., on June 19.
Sean Gardner/Getty Images
Workers adjust piping while drilling a relief well at the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Charlie Neibergall/Getty Images
A dolphin rises up out of the water near Grand Terre Island off the coast of Louisiana on June 14.
Derick E. Hingle/AP
President Obama stands with Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (right) and Gulfport, Miss., Mayor George Schloegel after meeting with residents affected by the oil spill.
Crude oil washes ashore in Orange Beach, Ala., on June 12. Oil slicks, 4 to 6 inches thick in some parts, have washed up along the Alabama coast.
A volunteer uses a toothbrush to clean an oil-covered white pelican at the Fort Jackson Oiled Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Buras, La., June 9.
Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
A shrimp boat skims oil from the surface of the water just off Orange Beach, Ala., as a family enjoys the surf. Oily tar balls have started washing up on Orange Beach and beaches in the western Florida panhandle.
Sand from a dredge is pumped onto East Grand Terre Island, La., to provide a barrier against the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, June 8.
A dead turtle floats on a pool of oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill in Barataria Bay off the coast of Louisiana on June 7.
Workers use absorbent pads to remove oil that has washed ashore from the spill in Grand Isle, La., June 6.
Plaquemines Parish coastal zone director P.J. Hahn lifts an oil-covered pelican out of the water on Queen Bess Island in Plaquemines Parish, La., June 5.
Heavy oil pools along the side of a boom just outside Cat Island in Grand Isle, La., June 6.
Win McNamee/Getty Images
President Obama walks alongside Grand Isle Mayor David Camardelle (from right), U.S. Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, who is in charge of the federal response to the spill, and Chris Camardelle after meeting with local business owners in Grand Isle, La., June 4.
Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
A brown pelican sits on the beach at East Grand Terre Island along the Louisiana coast after being drenched in oil from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, June 3.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announces that the Justice Department has launched a criminal investigation into the BP oil spill. With him, from left: Stephanie Finley and Jim Letten, U.S. attorneys for the Western District of Louisiana; Ignacia Moreno, assistant attorney general for the Environment and Natural Resources Division; Tony West, assistant attorney general, Civil Division; and Don Burkhalter, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi.
The oil slick off the coast of Louisiana, seen from above.
NASA via Getty Images
A worker leaves the beach in Grand Isle, La., on May 30. BP is turning to yet another mix of undersea robot maneuvers to help keep more crude oil from flowing into the Gulf.
Jae C. Hong/AP
Protesters cover themselves with a water and paint mixture during a demonstration at a BP gas station in New York City on May 28.
Workers clean up oil in Pass a Loutre, La. The latest attempt to plug the leak was unsuccessful.
Jae C. Hong, File/AP
Residents listen to a discussion with parish officials and a BP representative on May 25 in Chalmette, La. Officials now say that it may be impossible to clean the hundreds of miles of coastal wetlands affected by the massive oil spill.
Sean Gardner/Getty Images
An oil-soaked pelican takes flight after Louisiana Fish and Wildlife employees tried to corral it on an island in Barataria Bay on the coast of Louisiana. The island, which is home to hundreds of brown pelican nests as well at terns, gulls and roseate spoonbills, is impacted by oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill.
A sign warns the public to stay away from the beach on Grand Isle, La. Officials closed the oil-covered beaches to the public indefinitely on Saturday.
John Moore/Getty Images
Pelican eggs stained with oil sit in a nest on an island in Barataria Bay on May 22.
A bird flies over oil that has collected on wetlands on Elmer's Island in Grand Isle, La., May 20. The oil came inland despite oil booms that were placed at the wetlands' mouth on the Gulf of Mexico.
Members of the Louisiana National Guard build a land bridge at the mouth of wetlands on Elmer's Island.
The hands of boat captain Preston Morris are covered in oil after collecting surface samples from the marsh of Pass a Loutre, La., on May 19.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (center) and Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser (right) tour the oil-impacted marsh of Pass a Loutre, La. "This is the heavy oil that everyone's been fearing that is here now," said Jindal.
BP Chairman and President Lamar McKay (left), with Transocean President and CEO Steven Newman (center) and Applied Science Associates Principal Deborah French McCay, testifies during a Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing May 18 on response efforts to the Gulf Coast oil spill.
Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP
This undated frame grab image received from BP and provided by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee shows details of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. BP has agreed to display a live video feed of the oil gusher on the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming Committee's website beginning Thursday evening.
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee/AP
President Obama speaks with local fishermen about how they are affected by the oil spill in Venice, La., on May 2.
Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
Danene Birtell with Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research tends to a Northern Gannet in Fort Jackson, La., on April 30. The bird, normally white when full grown, is covered in oil from the oil spill.
Since the explosion, a third oil leak has been discovered in the blown-out well.
In this aerial photo taken April 21 more than 50 miles southeast of Venice, La., the Deepwater Horizon oil rig burns.
Tendrils of oil mar the waters of the Gulf of Mexico in this satellite image taken Monday. An estimated 5,000 barrels of oil a day are seeping into the Gulf, after an explosion last week on a drilling rig about 50 miles off the Louisiana coast.
Courtesy of Digital Globe
1 of 36
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."
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.