President Barack Obama keeps reassuring the nation that stopping the Gulf oil spill and limiting the fallout on the region are his top priority.
Yet so is protecting the country against attack. And getting people back to work.
Presidencies usually don’t allow for a dominant priority — just a list of priorities.
During another hectic week, Obama made this promise: “This entire White House and this entire federal government has been singularly focused on how do we stop the leak and how do we prevent and mitigate the damage to our coastlines.”
From the Gulf Coast on Friday, he said making the people and the ecosystems whole again “is our highest priority.” It was not just a policy statement but a communications imperative.
Obama had to show that he’s in charge of making it end. BP bears responsibility for the crisis. Obama now owns it. BP’s latest effort to stop the flow by plugging the well with mud and cement was determined Saturday to have failed.
Yet what’s next for the president will not be a single focus on the Gulf. His agenda ahead will be what it was: a juggle of priorities. Others will not wait while oil washes ashore in Louisiana.
“Clearly, people around here would like this crisis to recalculate his agenda,” said Brian Brox, a political science professor at Tulane University in New Orleans. “They see this as nearly an existential crisis, the way the aftermath of Katrina was. I think on the national level, however, this will probably one of those multiple balls that (Obama) has up in the air.”
And what’s he juggling?
- The Koreas could be edging to war. The South accuses the North of sinking one of its warships.
- Israel’s prime minister visits the White House on Tuesday as Obama presses peace talks with the Palestinians.
- The terror threat isn’t going away, as seen by the failed car bombing in New York City this month.
- A international standoff with Iran over its nuclear program is hardening.
- The economic recovery doesn’t feel like much of one to the millions who are jobless.
- A sweeping overhaul of financial regulation hangs in the balance. The White House hopes Congress can finish it by July.
- The president needs GOP support of two big initiatives, energy and immigration, but has little to show so far.
- Senators begin hearings in late June on his nominee for the Supreme Court, Elena Kagan.
- Fall elections are nearing, with Democrats facing losses and in need of campaign help from Obama.
Politics never stop, of course.
Just as Obama finished his Gulf tour Friday, the White House found itself off balance because of an embarrassing admission: It had proposed a political deal, in the form of unpaid job offer, to Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Pa., to get him to back off from his primary challenge to Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa. Sestak said no, stayed in the race and beat Specter.
Like presidents before him, Obama is having to work through unforeseen problems: offshore drilling and an environmental disaster, mine safety, the earthquake in Haiti, piracy off the Somali coast.
“One of the things you learn as president is because you’ve got this title, and you know, there’s the plane and the helicopter and all that stuff, that people expect you to solve problems,” Obama said Tuesday at a political fundraiser, yet another part of his job. “And when things go wrong, they’re definitely going to blame you. If things go right, occasionally you might get the credit.”
Obama’s ability to calmly handle many competing issues simultaneously is viewed as one of his strengths.
He has tried to let everyone know that what’s unfolding in the Gulf is more than a momentary crisis. The spill, he said Friday from Grand Isle, La., is nothing less than “an assault on our shores, on our people, on the regional economy, and on communities like this one.”
The president is also fond of saying he will not rest until the problem at hand gets fixed. The trouble is that there’s always more trouble.
Ben Feller covers the White House for The Associated Press.
White House: https://www.whitehouse.gov/
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