As Spill Gets Bigger, So Does White House PR Problem The 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.
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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

As Spill Gets Bigger, So Does White House PR Problem

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Today, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal pleaded for the Obama administration to do more to protect the fragile gulf shoreline. Specifically, he asks for more floating boom to help corral the oil and he asked the administration to move more quickly to approve his plan for manmade sand berms.

In Washington, the White House is desperately battling the impression that it's not doing enough or moving fast enough to solve the problem. NPR's Mara Liasson reports.

MARA LIASSON: A delegation of U.S. senators and Cabinet secretaries began the day in the gulf surveying the areas affected by the oil spill. Afterwards, 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.

Secretary KEN SALAZAR (Department of the Interior): This is a BP mess. It is a horrible mess. It is a massive environmental mess. The accountability here, as the investigations unfold, will hold them accountably both civilly and in whatever way is necessary. And we will not rest until the job is done.

LIASSON: The White House is well aware of the political peril the oil spill poses. They've been sending daily emails documenting what they call, quote, the ongoing administration-wide response to the BP 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.

Today, the man in charge of the administration's operation in the gulf, the U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Thad Allen, was the guest at Press Secretary Robert Gibbs' daily briefing.

Admiral THAD ALLEN (U.S. Coast Guard): I have been involved with the technical decisions made, especially in relation to deal with the leak, and we are - they are pressing ahead. We are overseeing them. They're exhausting every technical means possible to deal with that leak.

LIASSON: One of the problems is that the White House has been sending mixed messages about its partnership with BP. Here's Secretary Salazar yesterday in front of BP headquarters in Houston.

Sec. SALAZAR: BP, again, is a responsible party, and it has to - it 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.

LIASSON: But White House officials admit they can't realistically push BP out of the way - they're completely dependent on BP for the equipment and expertise to stop the spill, as Thad Allen himself explained today at the White House briefing.

Adm. ALLEN: To push BP out of the way would raise a question: Replace them with what?

LIASSON: The administration is being buffeted from both sides of the political spectrum over the spill. Today, Louisiana's Republican Governor Bobby Jindal complained 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 here's Democratic strategist and Louisiana resident James Carville on CNN, where he said the United States government was naive.

Mr. JAMES CARVILLE (Democratic Political Consultant): I think that the government thinks they're partnering with BP. I think they actually believe that BP has some kind of a good motivation here. And that's one of the sort of whole flaws - is they're na�ve.

LIASSON: And Carville said the administration wasn't treating the spill as a disaster of the first order. At a press conference today in Barataria Bay, Governor Jindal said Louisiana was tired of waiting and would go ahead and build the sand berms itself.

Governor BOBBY JINDAL (Republican, Louisiana): It is clear that we don't have the resources we need to protect our coast. We need more boom, more skimmers, more vacuums, more jack-up barges that are all still in short supply. And let's be clear, every day that this oil sits and waits for a cleanup is one more day that more of our marsh dies.

LIASSON: The White House is also in a race against time. The spill is still gushing 35 days 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.

Mara Liasson, NPR News, the White House.

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