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Obama White House still trying to get BP oil spill right

There’s been an improvisational tone to the White House response to the BP oil spill. But given the magnitude of the disaster, that may have been inevitable.

By Staff writer / June 11, 2010

President Barack Obama walks with Carol Browner, assistant to the President for energy and climate change, and Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen in Louisiana last month. Adm. Allen’s assignment as national incident commander has heightened the sense of “adult supervision” over the federal government’s response to the spill.

Patrick Semansky/AP/File

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Washington

Nearly eight weeks after an oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico launched the worst environmental disaster in US history, President Obama is still calibrating his response.

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The president now says he’s trying to figure out “whose a** to kick” for the BP oil spill, after weeks of criticism for not appearing angry enough over the mess. Next Monday and Tuesday, President Obama will return to the Gulf to survey disaster response and meet with residents and officials in Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida, his second visit in a little over a week and fourth overall since the spill began.

And on Wednesday, the White House will receive senior BP executives for a meeting, at the administration’s request, after previously defending Obama’s decision not to speak directly with BP CEO Tony Hayward. It’s not clear if Mr. Hayward himself will attend the meeting.

IN PICTURES: The Gulf oil spill's impact on nature

All these moves suggest an improvisational tone to the White House response; critics call it slow and reactive. But given the magnitude of the disaster – and the continuing upward estimates of the oil flow into the Gulf – that may have been inevitable.

“Almost no one believed in the first days after the explosion that we would be two months into this thing with marginal control over the wellhead,” says Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. “They recognized that it was a big deal to which they had to respond early, but they did it in a technocratic way, really, for the month, five or six weeks, even.”

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