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Gulf oil spill: Obama lands for a third visit

June 4, 2010 | 12:30 pm

President Obama, on his third visit to Louisiana to oversee oil spill operations, landed at an airport in Kenner, a New Orleans suburb, and met there with Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, Louisiana Gov. 
Bobby Jindal, Sen. David Vitter, Admiral Thad Allen, EPA  Administrator Lisa Jackson, Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, and other parish  presidents. Obama is now getting an update from Allen on the latest attempt to contain the oil spill.

Briefing reporters on Air Force One during the flight, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs refused to speculate whether BP will succeed in stanching the leak with a cap. "I'm long out of the prediction business on this," Gibbs said. "Everyone is hopeful this works."

The weather is poor, with intermittent rain. Instead of a 20-minute  helicopter ride to his next stop, Grand Isle, the president will  travel by motorcade, a trip expected to take more than two hours.

Asked about cancellation of the president's Indonesia trip, Gibbs said: "The president made a decision with all that's going on with our response right now, it would be difficult to go." Obama made the final decision to call off the trip on Thursday afternoon or evening, Gibbs said.

He would not say whether the president will make weekly trips to the gulf region. But no trip is planned next week, Gibbs said.

Even some allies of Obama are critical of his performance in the wake of  the oil spill. Ted Sorensen, a speechwriter and aide to former  President John F. Kennedy, said that Obama let too much time pass  before taking command of the crisis. "Trouble was, for a long time we didn't hear from him at all," said  Sorensen, who received a humanities award from Obama in February. "He didn't really seize the leadership on that issue."

A model for presidential leadership in a crisis of this kind was Kennedy's response to the steel industry's price increases in 1962, Sorensen said. Kennedy marshaled the full weight of his administration, giving  speeches and pressuring steel executives with the threat of criminal investigations. In the face of such a challenge, the steel industry buckled and rescinded the price hikes.

Sorensen, an Obama supporter, said Obama may have missed the moment.  "Frankly, now it's a little late to be assertive," Sorensen said.

Environmental groups and newspaper editorialists have also been pressing Obama to use the national outrage at the oil spill to build support in Congress for comprehensive climate and energy legislation that would move the country away from oil and toward renewable energy. Chances for passage of the climate legislation, now pending in Congress, had been waning before the spill in the face of an onslaught of industry opposition.

-- Peter Nicholas in Kenner, La., and Margot Roosevelt in Los Angeles