News / USA

Gulf Oil Spill Major Political Challenge For Obama

President Barack Obama's decision to postpone a trip to Indonesia and Australia scheduled for later this month is the latest example of how U.S. domestic politics often trumps foreign policy concerns.  Mr. Obama decided to put off the Asian trip to deal with the ongoing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which now threatens to dominate his political agenda for the foreseeable future.  

On Friday President Obama paid his third visit to the Louisiana coast since the oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded on April 20th, killing 11 workers and spewing a torrent of oil into the surrounding waters.

The president got a briefing on clean-up efforts along the Gulf coast.  Afterward, he vowed to keep pressure on the company responsible, oil giant BP, and said his administration would strengthen environmental and safety standards for future offshore drilling. "I do not want to see this repeated again, and the American people don't, and I promise you the people of the Gulf don't want to see it either," he said.

In Washington meanwhile, environmental protestors gathered in front of the local offices of BP, upset with its efforts to stop the oil spill. "We are tired of big oil polluting our political process," said one protestor.

Before his latest visit to the Gulf, President Obama told CNN he was furious about the oil spill, a comment that came after some critics complained that the president seemed disconnected from the crisis and was not displaying enough emotion.

Some Republicans have criticized the administration for being slow to respond to the magnitude of the crisis, including Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, who is considering a run for president in 2012. "He wants to say he's in charge.  That's great.  I'm glad he is assuming responsibility and accountability.  I wish he would have done it probably earlier," he said.

Coverage of the oil spill is dominating U.S. media, and the political fallout from the disaster has become a major political test for the Obama White House.

Kevin Whitelaw is with Congressional Quarterly magazine and is a guest on VOA's Issues in the News program. "And it has reached sort of saturation coverage level in all the U.S. media.  This is absolutely the biggest thing on Obama's plate.  He is cancelling foreign trips now.  The White House is in full, hardcore crisis response mode," he said.

This is the second time the White House has cancelled the trip to Indonesia and Australia, and both times the reason was domestic politics.  The trip was initially scheduled for March but put off because of the congressional vote on Mr. Obama's signature domestic achievement, enactment of health care reform.

A sampling of recent public opinion polls indicates the public is increasingly unhappy with the administration's response to the oil spill.

But Gallup pollster Frank Newport says it is too soon to know the political impact of the Gulf oil spill on the president's political fortunes. "We are monitoring that carefully.  Obama's job approval rating was down to 46 percent in the last week of May.  That is the lowest of his administration, but only by a point or so, so it is not like we have seen a dramatic drop-off.  And even then we are not exactly sure why Obama's rating would be lower, but it did drop some and there may be a little residual from that.  So far I would say it is not clear that the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has dramatically affected Obama in a negative way," he said.

Some conservative commentators predict the Gulf oil spill could turn out to be President Obama's Katrina, a reference to the widespread criticism of former President George W. Bush's response to the devastating impact of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005.

Other analysts are starting to draw parallels to the Iranian hostage crisis that bedeviled President Jimmy Carter in 1979 and 1980.

Conservative commentator Bill Kristol spoke on Fox News Sunday. "Who is in charge?  Here is an easy way to think of it," he said. "And who is running this crisis from the White House?"

But President Obama's defenders say his administration is well aware of the political lessons from the Katrina disaster under President Bush.

Peter Beinart writes about domestic and foreign policy and is a senior fellow at the New America Foundation in Washington.  He's also a guest on VOA's Press Conference USA. "In policy terms, this is just one of the greatest disasters that we've seen in the United States in recent decades.  When Katrina happened you already had this widespread impression of Bush's incompetence as a result of Iraq.  That is the not the perception, by and large, that people have with Barack Obama.  I mean there are criticisms out there.  Conservatives think he is weak or socialist or whatever, but incompetence is not the stereotype that he labors under," he said.

That may be true for now.  But Gallup pollster Frank Newport cautions that public perceptions of the president could change depending on how long the oil spill disaster drags on. "Unfortunately the person in charge usually gets too much credit when things go right, but I say unfortunately for that person (because) he or she gets less credit and a lot of blame when things go wrong.  So if things continue to be bad in terms of the oil spill through the summer it may be hard for Obama to get out of the way of the negative reaction on the part of the American public," he said.

The administration's handling of the oil spill could become an issue in this year's midterm congressional elections, where Republicans expect to gain seats in November in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

You May Like

Turkey: No Ransom Paid for Release of Hostages Held by IS Militants

President Erdogan hails release of hostages as diplomatic success but declines to be drawn on whether their release freed Ankara's hand to take more active stance against insurgents More

Audio Sierra Leone Ends Ebola Lockdown

Health ministry says it has reached 75 percent of its target of visiting 1.5 million homes to locate infected, educate population about virus More

US Pivot to Asia Demands Delicate Balancing Act

As tumult in Middle East distracts Obama administration, efforts to shift American focus eastward appear threatened More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Towni
X
Deborah Block
September 21, 2014 2:12 PM
A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Alibaba Shares Soar in First Day of Trading

China's biggest online retailer hit the market Friday -- with its share price soaring on the New York Stock Exchange. The shares were priced at $68, but trading stalled at the opening, as sellers held onto their shares, waiting for buyers to bid up the price. More on the world's biggest initial public offering from VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid