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White House Dismisses Katrina/Oil Spill Comparison


Nothing will get you a faster argument from White House spokesman Robert Gibbs than to liken President Obama's handling of the BP oil spill to President Bush's flawed response in 2005 to Hurricane Katrina.

"Other than geography, I haven't figured out how," Gibbs says of anyone making such a comparison.

Katrina proved to be a political calamity for Mr. Bush that will forever mar his legacy. The current White House wants no such parallels drawn to its management of the oil spill.

"We're dealing with a massive and potentially unprecedented environmental disaster," Mr. Obama declared yesterday after getting an update on the spill at the U.S. Coast Guard Station in Venice, Louisiana.

To counter comparisons with Katrina, Mr. Obama declared "that's why the federal government has launched and coordinated an all-hands-on-deck, relentless response to this crisis from day one."

He made the reference to "day one" three times in his 8-minute statement - to make the point that by no means was the administration slow to respond to the spill. Among the references:

  • "We've made preparations from day one to stage equipment for a worse-case scenario."
  • "I want to emphasize, from day one we have prepared and planned for the worst, even as we hoped for the best."

He twice used the word "relentless" to describe the government response to the spill.

"I'm not going to rest," the president said yesterday standing unprotected in a pouring rain, "until the leak is stopped at the source, the oil on the Gulf is contained and cleaned up, and the people of this region are able to go back to their lives and their livelihoods."

Mr. Obama says U.S. personnel "are doing everything in their power to mitigate this disaster, prevent damage to our environment, and help our fellow citizens."

As for the costs of the response, he is emphatic.

"Let me be clear: BP is responsible for this leak; BP will be paying the bill," he said. Even so, he said he won't spare any effort in responding to the crisis.

Above all else, the White House wants the strength of its rhetoric to be seen as reflecting the depth of its commitment to plug the leak and contain the spill and damage.

As for parallels to Katrina, "I'm happy to compare the response," Gibbs said on Air Force One as Mr. Obama's returned from his hastily-arranged visit to the gulf coast.

Gibbs concedes that like Katrina, the oil spill is "a situation of great potential environmental and economic devastation."

But he said "analogies are tougher to make" because Katrina was "a storm that you track for several weeks that comes ashore and kills 1,800 people." On the other hand, Gibbs makes the "day one" argument: that the Coast Guard and the Navy were "on site immediately after" the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig from which the oil spill began.

And, he says, the administration is doing everything it can.

It's a case the White House will be making over and over until the underground gusher is plugged and the spill is contained.

Special Section: Gulf Coast Oil Disaster
Oil Spill by the Numbers
Gulf Oil Spill Containment Efforts

Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent. You can read more of his posts in Hotsheet here. You can also follow him on Twitter here:
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    Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent.