Amid increasing criticism from politicians of both parties –except one notably high profile one — that he is not tough enough or doing enough, President Barack Obama has created an oil spill panel: but is it too little too late?
The news that in addition to trying to assess the situation and slap a band aid on it comes via this news story:
The president has called on former Sen. Bob Graham and former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator William Reilly to lead the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.
Mr. Graham is a former two-term governor of Florida and served for 18 years in the U.S. Senate. Mr. Reilly is a founding partner of Aqua International Partners LP, a private equity fund that invests in water and renewable energy companies. He’s also a senior adviser to TPG Capital LP, an international investment partnership.
“I can’t think of two people who will bring greater experience or better judgment to the task at hand,” Mr. Obama said.
The president plans to appoint five other people to the bipartisan commission—but no sitting government employees or elected officials. The panel will focus on environmental and safety precautions needed to prevent future accidents.
“What led to this disaster was a breakdown of responsibility on the part of BP and perhaps others, including Transocean and Halliburton,” the president said. “We will continue to hold the relevant companies accountable not only for being forthcoming and transparent about the facts surrounding the leak, but for shutting it down, repairing the damage it does, and repaying Americans who’ve suffered a financial loss.”
Mr. Obama said he also wants to know if existing laws are adequate for preventing future spills. “I want to know what worked and what didn’t work in our response to the disaster, and where oversight of the oil and gas industry broke down,” he said.
Obama has come under increasing fire on the government’s response to the oil spill, which some experts say could wind up being the worst in American history. Some GOPers have criticized the government’s response for not being switch enough with talk show hosts claiming it is “Obama’s Katrina.” Meanwhile, he is coming under increasingly strong criticism from some Democrats and sympathizers.
Perhaps the most glaring example of this is the recent barrage of comments from Democratic party strategist icon James Carville, and MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, a host who has often come under fire by both sides but who seems fascinated by Obama and Obama’s potential:’
At first, it was Rush Limbaugh who tagged the gusher in the Gulf “Obama’s Katrina” — but now two lions of the left are warning the White House that the administration’s handing of the environmental catastrophe is inflicting long-term political damage.
James Carville, a stalwart Obama defender — and Louisiana native — and MSNBC’s Chris Mathews both voiced concerns about the president’s handling of the spill, and Obama’s decision to allow BP to take the lead on plugging the pipe, which has been pouring oil into the sea for a month.
Their statements came on a day when the press corps spent the better part of an hour grilling White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs about the administration’s response to the Deepwater Horizons disaster — and the cloud of confusion over the amount of oil spilling from the severed exploration pipe and BP’s efforts to staunch the flow.
Matthews, speaking during an appearance with Jay Leno on NBC’s “Tonight Show,” said Obama’s response “scares me. He’s been acting a little like a Vatican Observer here. When is he actually going to do something?”
Carville, one of the President Bush’s harshest critics in the wake of the 2005 hurricane that decimated New Orleans, called Obama’s response “lackadaisical.”
Expect to hear Carville’s words quoted on talk shows and Republican ads – and they will have impact with some voters since it isn’t as if its one more predictable partisan slam from a talk show partisan hack.
“They are risking everything by this ‘go along with BP’ strategy they have that seems like, lackadaisical on this,” Carville told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Friday. “They seem like they’re inconvenienced by this, this is some giant thing getting in their way and somehow or another, if you let BP handle it, it’ll all go away. It’s not going away. It’s growing out there. It is a disaster of the first magnitude, and they’ve got to go to Plan B.”
He also said the White House needs to get tougher with BP.
Criticism of the Obama administration is not new. Earlier, conservative commentators like Rush Limbaugh also placed blame on the administration going as far as to call it “Obama’s Katrina.” That caused the Obama administration to release a detailed time line showing the actions they took within 24 hours of the initial explosion. In the end, much of the criticism from the right was dismissed after conservatives tried to Michael “heckuva job” Brown to attack the Obama administration response.
However, criticism from the left is new and something the administration should probably be more concerned with addressing. The President can hardly risk losing his base in the following two years of his presidency.
The problem for the President is that there is little he can do by most reports. Bill O’ Reilly has actually expressed sympathy for the President saying, correctly, that the President can not just put on a diving suit to take care of the problem. The pressures at 5,000 feet are tremendous. There are only about seven manned vehicles in the world capable of going to that depth. Almost all of them are owned by foreign countries and none of them could likely seal up the leak even if they got to the site. Vessels designed to go that deep are designed for research or possibly submarine rescue, not for sealing up a massive oil leak.
But the criticism from Carville and Matthews should be a big, fat warning sign for the Obama administration: it shows that the perception has spread that the administration has been left flat-footed by the critics and lacks the political guts to strongly deal with it and totally take charge. Here’s a video showing Matthews and Carville:
Republicans have been swift to blast the administration’s response to the issue. On May 5 the New York Times ran this story:
House Republicans pointedly questioned the speed of the Obama administration’s response to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the day after British Petroleum executives said the ruptured well could spew sweet crude into the surrounding water 10 times faster than initially estimated.
Representative Mike Pence, Republican of Indiana, demanded to know why President Obama delayed exhaustive federal action for nearly eight days and why necessary equipment was not immediately available in the region.
“This accident happened on April 20. The president did not fully deploy federal resources until April 28. British Petroleum was in charge of the response for the first 12 days.” Mr. Pence said Wednesday morning, citing the chaos that ensued when the government dragged its feet after Hurricane Katrina.
Obama administration officials have repeatedly rejected comparisons to the widely criticized federal response to Katrina in 2005, to the point where Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, berated Fox News reporters whose network provided a guest spot to the former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Michael Brown, from that time. On Wednesday, the White House posted a lengthy chronology – detailing day by the day — the involvement of federal authorities since the explosion occurred.
Republicans have not defended British Petrolium’s performance or role, even though in recent weeks Senate Republicans blocked Democrat’s experts to greatly increase oil companies’ liability — arguing it would cripple smaller oil companies.
But the GOP’s ability to now blast the Obama administration for not doing enough and not being tough enough on BP is complicated by the comments of Kentucky’s new Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul, who got a lot of new and old media publicity on Friday by saying Obama’s new hard line with BP was almost “unAmerican” and that “accidents happen” in oil spills. Rand threw a monkey wrench into a possible GOP attack line since now GOPers will have to disavow or explain why their calls for a future line don’t jibe with Paul’s and they will be asked to distance themselves from him on that issue.
Paul had been slated to be on Meet the Press today but after a disastrous debut in the national media big time cancelled, citing exhaustion. Only two other people have cancelled slated MtP apperances in that shows’ two-decades long history: Louis Farrakhan and Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan. Time’s Mark Halperin headlined his item on the cancellation: “So Predictable.”
If you hear a noise, it’s a massive sigh of relief from the GOP party elite.
Will this commission produce substance? It’ll most likely lead to some new regulations. But on the political front it still doesn’t obscure the emerging issue of an administration taking its good, ‘ol time in pondering an issue and talking tougher but seemingly not totally in charge.
Now you can follow Joe Gandelman on Twitter.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.