Oil spill, Nashville flood, Times Square bomb: Obama's tough week

The events of the past week would test any president. How well has Obama weathered the BP oil spill, the Nashville flood, a car bomb in Times Square, and Thursday's wild stock market ride?

Susan Walsh/AP
President Obama, followed by his economic team, leaves the Oval Office for a news conference about monthly job numbers on Friday.

When all is said and done, a post-presidential Barack Obama may look back on this week, and think, “Phew!”

Between the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the attempted car bombing in New York’s Times Square, the Dow plummeting nearly 1,000 points in one day before recovering somewhat, and the flooding of Nashville, the events have been enough to try any president’s soul. Oh, and he’s also about to nominate a new Supreme Court justice. And perhaps pass financial regulatory reform.

Through it all, President Obama has maintained his trademark equilibrium – and steady state job approval ratings, still typically just a click below 50 percent in major polls. And there’s no sign, so far at least, that the slow-motion catastrophe in the Gulf is Obama’s hurricane Katrina, politically speaking. A Fox News poll released Thursday showed that 50 percent of Americans approve of how the Obama administration is handling the oil spill, with 29 percent disapproval and 21 percent unsure. That 50 percent mark is two points above his job approval in the Fox poll, conducted by Opinion Dynamics Corp.

So what have we learned about Obama in this momentous week?

"He continues to show a certain steadiness, which he did during the course of the campaign,” says John Geer, a presidential scholar at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. “This is one reason why he was elected. The long campaign – which some people groused about – was really critical, in this case, to providing people with enough information to be confident that he was at least plausibly ready to be president.”

Of course, there’s no guarantee that months of consistent job approval ratings will continue on into the future indefinitely. If the situation in the Gulf and on its coast worsens dramatically – and the administration is perceived to have mishandled it – his job approval could take a hit. Ditto with a successful terror attack.

On the plus side for Obama, the jobs numbers out Friday showed improvement in the economy, with 290,000 new hires in April – more than expected. Still, unemployment remains high at 9.9 percent, up from 9.7 percent, as more job seekers seek to reenter the workforce. And the stock market remained volatile Friday.

Meeting with reporters in his office Friday, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said that Obama could announce his Supreme Court nominee “at any moment,” and did not try to steer speculation away from Solicitor General Elena Kagan. When asked about reports that Ms. Kagan had served as a paid adviser on a panel at banking giant Goldman Sachs, Mr. Gibbs replied that the panel “had absolutely nothing to do with the decisions Goldman is being investigated for.”

He also noted that her advisory role with Goldman had come up during her confirmation as solicitor general, and when asked if that could hurt her in a Supreme Court confirmation process, he said “no.”

On the flooding in Tennessee, Gibbs said Obama had no plans to go there, but the president had spoken multiple times with Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) about the situation. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is heading to Tennessee on Saturday.


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