White House offers detailed spill defense as Republicans begin to pounce
Politico doesn’t quote from ‘6,300 word opus’ to balance GOP charges
Obama’s Katrina? Stuff that, the White House is basically saying.
The White House on Wednesday made a new attempt to blunt criticisms that it acted too slowly to stem the Gulf Coast oil spill, releasing a detailed 7,000-word summary of its actions so far (White House link).
Meanwhile, Politico reports, “A top House Republican said White House was ‘slow to respond’ in the first days after the Gulf oil rig accident, signaling that some Republicans are prepared to start casting partisan blame on the disaster.”
The document, written by the White House’s deputy homeland security advisor Heidi Avery, begins on the night of the explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig on April 20, and describes what became an effort to prevent an environmental disaster.
The White House said it released the document on its blog to provide Americans with a “clear understanding” of the government effort.
Officials have consistently rejected parallels between Hurricane Katrina, in 2005 when the Bush administration was slow to respond to an evolving disaster and have also denied they relied too heavily on rig operator BP.
The chronology said the government response to the spill began immediately after the explosion, with a search and rescue mission, and a command center was established on the Gulf coast to assess possible environmental damage.
President Barack Obama was also alerted and began “actively monitoring the situation,” the document said.
The summary goes on to relate the dispatch of officials, ships and helicopters to the scene of the accident over the next few days, as a search and rescue operation morphed into a salvage effort.
The administration held its first meetings with the leadership of the British energy giant on April 21, as the extent of the accident, which cost the lives of 11 oil workers, became clear.
That was the day that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and National Security Secretary Janet Napolitano opened a probe into the cause of the disaster.
On April 22, the day the rig sank, the administration’s National Response Team was activated, and Obama conducted a meeting of principal officials from across the government in the Oval Office.
The first oil leaks from the ruptured rig were discovered two days later, causing the Coast Guard to elevate its response operation.
Over the next few days, Obama, who visited the response operation on the Gulf coast on Saturday, was repeatedly briefed about the unfolding disaster, and efforts to mitigate the spread of the oil.
The chronology concludes with details on the operation as of Tuesday, showing that 200 response vessels were now deployed, along with 367,881 feet of boom to try to protect vulnerable coastlines.
Around 7,500 personnel were on station to respond to the unfolding disaster.
Over the weekend, a lengthy New York Times article reported, “The Obama administration has publicly chastised BP America for its handling of the spreading oil gusher, yet a review of the response suggests it may be too simplistic to place all the blame for the unfolding environmental catastrophe on the oil company. The federal government also had opportunities to move more quickly, but did not do so while it waited for a resolution to the spreading spill from BP.”
The Department of Homeland Security waited until Thursday to declare that the incident was Ã¢â‚¬Å“a spill of national significance,Ã¢â‚¬Â and then set up a second command center in Mobile, Ala. The actions came only after the estimate of the size of the spill was increased fivefold to 5,000 barrels a day.
The delay meant that the Homeland Security Department waited until late this week to formally request a more robust response from the Department of Defense, with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano acknowledging even as late as Thursday afternoon that she did not know if the Defense Department even had equipment that might be helpful.
By Friday afternoon, she said, the Defense Department had agreed to send two large military transport planes to spray chemicals that can disperse the oil while it is still in the Gulf.
Officials initially seemed to underestimate the threat of a leak, just as BP did last year when it told the government such an event was highly unlikely. Rear Adm. Mary E. Landry, the chief Coast Guard official in charge of the response, said on April 22, after the rig sank, that the oil that was on the surface appeared to be merely residual oil from the fire, though she said it was unclear what was going on underwater. The day after, officials said that it appeared the wellÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s blowout preventer had kicked in and that there did not seem to be any oil leaking from the well, though they cautioned it was not a guarantee.
Mediaite’s Colby Hall also laid blame on the media itself.
There are a number of reasons to believe that the oil spill story currently unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico is close to entering the pantheon of Ã¢â‚¬Å“epicÃ¢â‚¬Â news stories. For starters, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s earned its own shorthand moniker of Ã¢â‚¬Å“Gulf Oil Spill.Ã¢â‚¬Â ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s also got its own branded graphics package on the cable news channels. But more importantly, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s beginning to be exploited as a political device, most notably being called Ã¢â‚¬Å“ObamaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Katrina.Ã¢â‚¬Â Well, there was a delayed response on this story, but it wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t by the administration. If the oil spill is anyoneÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Ã¢â‚¬Å“Katrina,Ã¢â‚¬Â its the mediaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s for taking almost week to cover it on an appropriate scale.
In the past few days, a number of talking heads and media analysts have asked the question whether this oil spill should be considered Ã¢â‚¬Å“ObamaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Katrina,Ã¢â‚¬Â implying that the administration was slow to respond to this environmental catastrophe in much the same way President Bush was criticized by some who thought he was very slow to understand and act upon the scale of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. There is a valid debate about how quickly and effectively the administration reacted.
Unlike Katrina, the scale of this was not immediately knowable Ã¢â‚¬â€œ the news initially broke that just the leak was relatively small. And of course, hindsight is 20/20 Ã¢â‚¬â€œ no one can be blamed for not predicting the future.
It is odd, then, that so many in the media took the Ã¢â‚¬Å“ObamaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s KatrinaÃ¢â‚¬Â political meme and ran with it Ã¢â‚¬â€ multiple examples of the metaphorÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s usage can be seen in The Daily Show clip below. But the truth appears to be that the governmentÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s response was within the realm of an appropriate reaction from the very beginning of this disaster. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the members of the media, however, that should be asking themselves Ã¢â‚¬Å“is this our Katrina?Ã¢â‚¬Â
Politico’s report by Jake Sherman on Wednesday adds,
House Republican Conference Chair Mike Pence of Indiana, speaking after the GOPÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s closed-door meeting Wednesday morning, said the Ã¢â‚¬Å“necessary equipment was not immediately available in the regionÃ¢â‚¬Â after the leak began on April 20 and the federal government did not Ã¢â‚¬Å“fully deployÃ¢â‚¬Â federal resources until April 28.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“The people of the Gulf of Mexico deserve better,Ã¢â‚¬Â Pence said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“There were errors in the past in the wake of Katrina and the slow federal response and I think despite this mantra of the administration, officials who were on the Hill yesterday, of Day One, Day One, Day One, the American people know better, the American people want answers. They want to know whatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s happened, they want to know why the federal response was slow.Ã¢â‚¬Â
The GOP has generally avoided casting blame regarding the accident. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), the former House Energy committee chairman, said that the government regulators were likely not to blame and he is looking to work with Democrats to discover the reason for the leak.
“The White House has been aggressive in positioning their response as immediate and responsible, in order to prevent such comparisons,” Politico’s Sherman added. “In fact, the White House posted a 6,300 word opus Wednesday morning detailing the administrationÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s response to the oil spill.”
However, the Politico article didn’t include even one line from the “6,300 word opus” to balance the GOP charges (nor link to it directly).
On Tuesday, Politico carried an article titled “White House in P.R. ‘panic’ over spill.”
Ã¢â‚¬Å“They werenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t slow on the response; they were slow on talking about it,Ã¢â‚¬Â an outside White House adviser told Politico’s Glenn Thrush and Mike Allen. Ã¢â‚¬Å“The communication and the visibility came several days later. In the beginning, because this was so unprecedented, they were optimistic they would be successful in shutting it down relatively soon. They thought theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d be able to cap it.”
(with AFP reports)