Amid criticism over oil spill, Obama will visit Gulf Coast again

By Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 26, 2010; A06

With President Obama under increasing pressure to respond more forcefully to the Gulf Coast oil spill as the environmental devastation mounts, he is expected to order on Thursday strengthened inspections for offshore drilling operations, a U.S. official said Wednesday night.

Obama will also travel to Louisiana on Friday, the White House said. He will get an update on the oil spill response and cleanup and will meet with residents who have been personally affected by the oil gushing from a damaged undersea well head, officials said.

And he is expected to discuss the disaster Thursday, after the Interior Department reports on the circumstances that led up to the spill. Obama had ordered a review, set to arrive later this week.

The show of greater attentiveness from the president comes five weeks after an April 20 explosion on a rig off the Louisiana shore killed 11 workers and triggered the oil spill. It also follows criticism from Republicans, and some Democrats, that the administration has not done enough in the crisis.

Although senior administration officials have voiced growing disapproval of BP, the company operating the rig and responsible for the cleanup, the mission of the Friday trip is not to declare war on the firm, said one senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal White House deliberations.

Instead, the official said, the trip will demonstrate that Obama is "on top of it."

Democrats inside and outside the White House are clamoring for more, though. Several Democratic strategists with ties to the White House said there has been concern over how long it took the administration to convey its unhappiness with BP. "It's not easy to craft an effective message when the disaster is ongoing," one Democratic adviser said.

Obama's last trip to the Gulf was last-minute, brief and had little lasting effect. He flew in and out of New Orleans on May 2, drove two hours to a Coast Guard station and got a briefing before taking a quick helicopter tour. He did not even see the oil slick.

This time, "we are not going to have a problem finding it," one official said.

Democratic strategist James Carville, who lives in New Orleans and has been highly critical of the administration's actions, said he is "glad" Obama is coming.

But he said the president has been too measured overall. "Eleven people are killed because of multinational corporate greed, malfeasance and possibly criminal negligence? I think Franklin Roosevelt would have jumped out of his wheelchair and run down here to be in the middle of this."

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