WASHINGTON -- As the catastrophic Gulf oil spill moves into its seventh week, the White House is still struggling to prove it is fully in charge of dealing with America's worst environmental disaster.
So far, the Obama administration is running out of excuses. They're not only losing the battle to contain the spill, they're also losing the argument that they have been in command of the situation from the very beginning.
Public perceptions are everything in a crisis, and the perception in this crisis has been that the administration is letting BP handle this disaster because they don't have a clue about how to deal with it.
President Obama has talked tough about holding BP responsible for the havoc the massive oil spill is wreaking on the Gulf coast states and their economies. He named a commission to look into its causes and to assess blame (when the number one priority is to plug up the well), and he belatedly admitted that he was responsible for dealing with this mess.
But last week in his first news conference in many months, forced on him by the continuing crisis that was poisoning the Gulf's waters, the president proved he has not really been in charge of the crisis -- admitting that both the federal government and his administration does not have the technical expertise that BP and its many subcontractors have at their disposal.
As the situation worsened last week with BP's latest failure to cap the well -- and it appears that oil will continue to gush into Gulf waters for weeks to come -- the White House desperately began making changes in its public relations strategy and in its command structure.
But the front-page headlines in Tuesday's Washington Post made it clear that the White House isn't seizing control of the situation at all, but going on the attack -- against big oil.
"Obama administration moves to distance itself from BP on oil spill response," the headline read, followed by the subhead that said, "Administration asserts its authority in crisis; Holder heading to Gulf."
That's Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. That's right, the White House is dispatching its top lawyer to Louisiana, not to grapple with an out-of-control offshore oil disaster, but to "meet with federal and state prosecutors." To show it means business this time, the White House leaked that Holder's trip just could mean that "the environmental calamity might become the subject of a criminal investigation," the Post reported.