The rising price of gas took on new political urgency Monday as President Obama made an appeal to consumers in battleground states on an issue that could present problems for him this fall.
The White House mounted an aggressive public relations campaign to blunt renewed Republican attacks blaming him for the rising prices, with Obama granting one-on-one interviews with reporters from eight local television stations in key markets.
“As long as gas prices are going up,
people are going to feel like I’m not doing enough, and I understand that,” Obama said in an interview with ABC affiliate WFTV in Orlando.
The president repeated his message that there is no “silver bullet” to provide immediate relief at the pump, but he touted a 19-page interagency report detailing
“significant progress” toward reducing the country’s long-term dependence on foreign oil.
And he dismissed an assertion from Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich that he could reduce prices from Monday’s national average of $3.79 per gallon to $2.50.
“Nobody believes that,” Obama said. “They know that’s just politics. Anybody who says we can get gas down to two bucks a gallon just isn’t telling the truth.” The president has been championing a long-term approach to reducing the cyclical spikes in the cost of gasoline, but public opinion polls released this week show plummeting public support for his efforts. Two-thirds of respondents in a Washington Post-ABC News poll said they disapproved of his performance, with just 26 percent approving.
Sensing a White House on the defensive, Republicans, who have battered Obama for weeks, continued to mock him on Monday for not acting more aggressively.
Gingrich used a speaking appearance at the Gulf Coast Energy Summit in Biloxi, Miss., to ridicule Obama’s previous suggestion that algae could provide a form of alternative energy. The former House speaker has promoted increased domestic drilling as a way to lower prices.
“We were thinking about sending volunteers to gas stations this summer with bottles of algae,” Gingrich said, sarcastically, to a crowd of several hundred. “The biggest issue this fall is going to be drilling versus algae. It’s going to be $2.50 a gallon versus $10 a gallon. It’s going to be, ‘Which future do you want for your children?’ ”
Another GOP presidential hopeful, Rick Santorum, also appearing at the summit, joked that there are extra zeroes on gas price signs that stand for “Obama.”
Alluding to the administration’s rejection of the Keystone oil sands pipeline, a project that would carry crude oil from Canada to refineries in the United States, Santorum said the president’s energy policy could be boiled down to two letters: N-O.
“We need a policy that doesn’t say no to the development of energy,” Santorum said. “We have a president who is 100 percent against anything that will create more energy independence, that would create an opportunity for us to not just grow our energy reserves . . . but to create the jobs that come along with it.”
The White House fought back by citing data compiled in the report from six federal agencies that showed the United States reduced its imports of foreign oil by 1 million barrels a day in 2011, a reduction of 10 percent.
The administration said it had increased drilling on federal land from 1.7 billion barrels during the years 2006-2008 under President George W. Bush to 1.9 billion barrels from 2009 to 2011 under Obama.
Other accomplishments cited in the report were new auto-efficiency standards requiring an average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 and the approval of 29 onshore renewable energy projects — 16 solar projects, five wind farms and eight geothermal facilities.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, making a rare appearance in the White House briefing room, said that as “political rhetoric” from Obama’s critics rises “to the highest volumes,” the president’s long-term policies are “the only way to get to the point where we stop having the price shocks and disruptions we’ve been seeing.”
But Republicans challenged several of the White House’s claims, saying the president was taking undeserved credit for a boom in domestic production of oil and natural gas on private land.
In a memo to reporters, Lanhee Chen, policy director for Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney, cited a report from the Energy Information Administration that said part of the decline in the United States’ dependence on foreign oil was the result of declining consumption because of the downturn in the economy.
“At least that is something he can take responsibility for,” Chen wrote.
Staff writers Amy Gardner and Nia-Malika Henderson in Biloxi, Miss., contributed to this report.