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Obama launches BP oil spill offensive

President Obama is touring the Gulf coast this week, will give a prime-time Oval Office address Tuesday, and hosts BP officials at the White House Wednesday.

By Staff writer / June 14, 2010

President Obama meets with National Incident Commander US Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen for a briefing on the BP oil spill at Coast Guard Station Gulfport in Gulfport, Mississippi, on Monday.

Jim Young/Reuters

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Nearly two months into the BP oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, President Obama is making his most concerted effort yet to project the kind of can-do spirit that got him elected in 2008.

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Mr. Obama touched down in Gulfport, Miss., Monday morning, the first of several stops along the Gulf coast for meetings with local officials, residents, and the media over the next two days. Tuesday evening, the president will deliver his first-ever primetime address from the Oval Office. And on Wednesday, he and administration officials will meet with BP execs at the White House.

Obama has taken a drubbing for appearing behind the curve in his administration’s response to the worst environmental disaster in US history. Now, as scenes of an expanding slick across the Gulf, oil-drenched animals, and tar balls on beaches blanket the airwaves, Obama faces as big a public perception challenge as any since taking office. Can he recover?

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

"I think he can,” says Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. “It becomes more difficult as time goes on, because at a certain point any effort to be more assertive looks like he’s trying to recover from failure, rather than doing it for genuine reasons. But if he can lay out a program that brings the leak to an end, especially in the modern media age, he can change the score.”

That is no small task. In his Oval Office address Tuesday, Obama will focus not only on the BP disaster but the future of energy policy.

"We’re at kind of an inflection point in this saga because we now know ... essentially what we can do and what we can’t do in terms of collecting oil and what lies ahead in the next few months,” senior Obama aide David Axelrod said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday. “And he wants to lay out the steps that we’re going to take from here to get through this crisis.”