By Shailagh Murray
Tuesday, May 25, 2010; 6:20 PM
Members of both parties say they are alarmed by the unfolding crisis, but Republicans are upping the ante by questioning whether the Obama administration is doing enough to shut down the gushing underwater well and to contain the resulting environmental damage.
"Today is Day 36" since the well's drilling rig exploded, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said Tuesday during a hearing on offshore drilling liability. "The cloud of confusion over how much oil is spilling into the gulf is very concerning. And it's also very unclear who was in charge."
Republicans are seeking to erode voter confidence in Obama's leadership by portraying him as lackadaisical in his response -- similar to the crippling effect of Hurricane Katrina for President George W. Bush. GOP lawmakers also are making a case that Obama is too cozy with the oil industry to apply maximum pressure on BP, a theory advanced by former Alaska governor Sarah Palin (R) on "Fox News Sunday."
"I don't know why the question isn't asked by the mainstream media and others if there's any connection with the contributions made to President Obama and his administration and the support by the oil companies to the administration," Palin said.
Republican campaign organizations blasted Obama for traveling Tuesday to California to hold a fundraiser for Sen. Barbara Boxer (D), who is locked in a tight reelection battle. The event is scheduled to be held at a mansion owned by the Getty family.
"President Delays Gulf Coast Spill Recovery Efforts for San Francisco Fundraiser with Oil Heirs," read the headline of a news release Tuesday from the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
The White House announced Tuesday that Obama would return to the Gulf Coast on Friday.
The oil spill was the first question posed to Obama during a Tuesday meeting with Republican senators at the Capitol. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) queried the president about methods for preventing oil from washing ashore, contaminating fragile wetlands and ruining Gulf Coast beaches.
"I just don't think that it's practically apparent at all that there's any single person in charge at any level," said Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine.). "It requires the president of the United States amassing all the federal resources, getting all the people in the room and not just leaving it to BP. I don't think that clarity of responsibility and decision-making is clear. That's a problem. The president and the administration need to take charge."