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Is President Obama Avoiding BP's Tony Hayward?

BP Chief Executive Officer Tony Hayward. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
BP Chief Executive Officer Tony Hayward. AP

Updated 6:29 p.m. Eastern Time

The White House today continued its odd dance around the question of whether President Obama will meet with BP's top execs.

There were reports today that the president might meet with CEO Tony Hayward next week when Hayward is in town to testify before Congress. But Robert Gibbs shot down that idea, making clear that if Mr. Obama meets with anyone it will be Chairman of the Board Carl-Henric Svanberg.

Why not Hayward, since as CEO he's the day-to-day manager and the face of BP?

Gibbs said it's a matter of "corporate governance" -- suggesting that the President would only want to meet with the alpha dog. But the President met with Wall Street CEOs when he wanted to give the big banks a piece of his mind. Reporters pressed: Why not the CEO of BP?

Gibbs fell back on the "corporate governance" rationale without explaining it.

A pretty good guess would be that the real answer is that Hayward is such damaged goods in the eyes of the American public that it would do the president political harm to be associated with him in any way.

As for Svanberg, there are reports out of London that he's even less popular than Hayward with shareholders - and his job less secure. But Gibbs said he "wouldn't rule it out" when asked if they will meet, which usually means "yes."

What makes it even more likely is that Gibbs was also asked what they would talk about IF such a meeting were to occur. Normally he would quickly dispose of that by calling it a "hypothetical question." Instead, he responded with a long list of issues they would discuss. Unless something changes, looks like a meeting is on.

UPDATE: National Incident Commander Thad Allen today sent a letter to Svanberg released by the White House late this afternoon inviting him "and any appropriate officials from BP" to meet with senior administration officials on June 16th. 

"President Obama will participate in a portion of this meeting," he wrote.

Special Section: Disaster in the Gulf

Chip Reid CBS
Chip Reid is CBS News' chief White House correspondent. You can read more of his posts in Hotsheet here.
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