WASHINGTON, June 13, 2010 -- It's not too late to find his way to the White House rooftop after all.
President Obama is now reacting to the BP oil mess in precisely the way he said he didn't need to. After weeks of insisting that bringing rhetorical heat on BP executives wouldn't get anything done, that's just what he's starting to do.
Now, a president who's known for his cool is looking for butts to kick. He's meeting with the same executives whose direct input he said he didn't think he needed, as his top aides telegraph growing frustration with their erstwhile partners at BP.
Nearly two months into the environmental calamity in the region, he's making his fourth visit to the Gulf region -- this time, spending an overnight and the better part of two days.
He's capping it all by using one of the loudest megaphones a president possesses: a prime-time address Tuesday night, from the Oval Office.
Why the shift? The White House is beginning to realize that the political fallout of the oil spill is very real -- and holding office for a year and a half makes it harder to blame the previous administration for evident shortcomings.
Just as the president and his top aides didn't fully grasp the scale of environmental fallout, they didn't comprehend the degree to which the response to the incident has evolved into a test of presidential leadership.
The president himself has voiced growing frustration over what he sees as a media-constructed storyline. Yet his actions now, in turning up the rhetorical heat and the personal involvement, play into that narrative.
Little if anything the president says or does this week will do much -- to quote the president on what he's indicated he thinks the American people really want -- to "plug the damn leak." But the time for making friends is over.
"I don't consider them a partner," White House senior adviser David Axelrod said on "Meet the Press" today, when asked about the White House relationship with BP executives. "They're not social friends. They are not -- I'm not looking to make judgments about their soul. I just want to make sure that they do what they're required to do."
Backers of comprehensive energy and environmental legislation had hoped that the incident in the Gulf would refocus national attention on their cause, fueling a new push toward Senate action on a long-delayed comprehensive bill.
The BP oil spill has indeed scrambled the politics of energy -- but almost certainly not enough to get the cap into cap-and-trade.
Senate Democrats on Thursday will meet to discuss a path forward on an energy bill, and the likeliest path will involve dropping the environmental end of the policy checklist, and focus instead on renewable-energy incentives.
A much-watched vote last week laid bare the stubborn politics surrounding these issues in the Senate. Six Democrats voted with Republicans in a failed bid to strip the EPA of the power to regulate carbon emissions.
Backers of a sweeping approach to energy that involves caps on emissions are caught in a paradox involving the fallout of the BP spill. As President Obama himself realized when he endorsed further offshore drilling just a month before the rig explosion, the only way to get Republicans and moderate Democrats on board for a comprehensive bill is with significant drilling expansion.
In BP's wake, that's simply not going to fly. That means any efforts to impose meaningful limits on greenhouse gas emissions will have to wait at least another year -- and probably longer than that, given the likelihood of Republican pick-ups in the midterm elections this year.