Obama hoping to stem flow of bad publicity


THE US president returned to Louisiana yesterday for only the second time since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig sank on April 21st.

“Thursday’s press conference didn’t kill the ‘Obama’s not in charge’ line,” said Mark Halperin of Time magazine, “but if the visit has good optics (and the leak gets plugged!) the administration might be able to take the edge off the political crisis.”

A USA Today/Gallup poll shows that 53 per cent of Americans believe Barack Obama has done a “poor” or “very poor” job of handling the oil spill.

Tony Hayward, the chief executive of British Petroleum, said the company’s attempt to plug the leak was making progress, but that it would take up to 48 more hours before they would know whether the “top kill” had worked.

“If it is successful, it would obviously be welcome news,” Mr Obama said at Port Fourchon, on the estuary of the Mississippi River.

“If it’s not, the team of the world’s top scientists, led by our Nobel prize-winning energy secretary Steven Chu, has for some time been exploring any and all contingency plans.”

On the path of the president’s motorcade, a young man held up a handwritten white sign with “Clean Up the Gulf” written in black letters that looked like dripping oil.

Even if BP stops the leak, Mr Obama said: “Our response will continue with its full force. These waters contain oil from what is still the largest spill in American history, and more of it will come ashore.”

The president broke off his Memorial Day holiday weekend with family in Chicago to fly to Louisiana, where he met the governors of the Gulf states, members of congress and local leaders.

Mr Obama walked along a beach decked with yellow “caution” tape, rolled up his sleeves, crouched in the sand to pick up tar balls and suggested that the day was “ideal for in situ burning and skimming”.

He said he had seen dolphins just offshore, “so obviously there’s precious wildlife in this area, even though you see a whole bunch of oil rigs in the background”.

Mr Obama reiterated that he was responsible, and said the oil spill “is our highest priority and it deserves a response that is equal to the task”.

Commentators said it was important for Mr Obama to convey an “I feel your pain” image in the tradition of Bill Clinton.

Although he did not meet people directly affected by the spill, he spoke about the fears of fishermen and local residents.