Slick Waters: Heckuva Dilemma, As Sludge Sticks to Politics and Policy

By Rick Klein : While our eyes gazed downward at Florida, what if the biggest political story of the week was creeping up toward the Gulf Coast?

(Not that disasters that strike Louisiana ever have political impact or anything.)

Like the scale of the environmental impact, the political impact has the potential to get worse with the sticky, deadly mess that’s already lapping onto shore.

The Obama administration, like the rest of the country, was a beat behind. It took eight days before we began to see the full efforts of the federal government brought to bear.

Those confident predictions that all was under control? Distant memories now, replaced by a parade of officials telling us things will be getting worse before they get better.

Complicating the politics, if not the response, is the administration’s month-old stance on offshore oil drilling -- a move that was already hated by the president’s allies in the environmental community.

The safety argument is back in play -- and an administration that’s scrambling to avert catastrophe can’t blame a policy it wants to change.

Now, a retreat, or at least a pause: “No domestic drilling in new areas is going to go forward until there is an adequate review of what’s happened here, and what has been proposed elsewhere,” White House senior adviser David Axelrod told George Stephanopoulos, on ABC’s “Good Morning America” Friday.

The larger point that sticks like sludge: This was all under control -- until suddenly it wasn’t.

“Now questions are sure to be raised about a self-policing system that trusted a commercial operator to take care of its own mishap even as it grew into a menace imperiling Gulf Coast nature and livelihoods from Florida to Texas,” the AP’s Calvin Woodward reports . “The political subtext of the crisis was clear and increasingly on people's minds, whether from a federal office deploying oil-containment booms or from a Louisiana parish awaiting yet another sucker punch from the sea. Will this be Obama's Katrina? Should the federal and state governments have done more, and earlier? Did they learn the lessons of the devastating hurricane?”

Axelrod said on “GMA” that he’s “not concerned” with comparisons to Katrina: “This is always the case in Washington -- that whenever something like this happens, the political speculation sets in. But the truth of the matter is we had the Coast Guard on the scene almost immediately after this accident... And we’ve been coordinating closely with the local authorities and with the responsible party, BP, to deal with this, from the very beginning.”

More of that K-word: “With an oily stench permeating the air across southeastern Louisiana, a massive oil spill was expected to start coming ashore in the Mississippi River delta early Friday, triggering all-out efforts to stave off an environmental and fishing industry disaster as some state officials feared a repeat of the botched response that doomed the region during Hurricane Katrina's aftermath,” Paul Rioux and Robert Travis Scott report in the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

Heckuva comparison: “The rapidly expanding environmental catastrophe caused by the oil spill off the coast of Louisiana is presenting a growing political challenge to the Obama White House, with Mr. Obama and his aides at pains to defend the response and forestall comparisons to the Hurricane Katrina crisis,” the Washington Times’ Joseph Curl writes .

Coast Guard Rear Adm. Sally Brice-O'Hara, at the White House: “We are being very aggressive and we are prepared for the worst case.” (And before?)

Brice-O’Hara, on “GMA” Friday: “The federal response to this has been immediate, sustained, and we have scaled as we have learned more about the situation we’re dealing with. ... The skimming and the controlled burns are highly dependent upon the weather, and we won’t be able to use them in the next couple of days.”

The big shift: “Eight days after the first explosion on the rig, which left 11 workers missing and presumed dead, the tenor of the response team’s briefings changed abruptly Wednesday night with a hastily called news conference to announce that the rate of the spill was estimated to be 5,000 barrels a day, or more than 200,000 gallons -- five times the previous estimate. By Thursday, it was apparent that the cleanup operation desperately needed help, with no indication that the well would be sealed any time soon and oil drifting closer to shore,” The New York Times’ Campbell Robertson reports .

Rep. Charlie Melancon, D-La., tells USA Today he’s “waiting for answers” from the federal government as to what equipment was available to stop the oil from spreading, and when it could get there. "You just feel helpless," he said. "This is an area that has been through an awful lot."

“In Washington, the White House held a series of high-profile media events aimed at communicating that the administration is fully engaged in the crisis,” The Washington Post’s Steven Mufson and Michael D. Shear report. “The administration is well aware that the president's campaign victory was built in part on a belief among voters that he would do a better job at responding to disasters like Hurricane Katrina than did President Bush.”

On their way, with a 2:30 pm ET media briefing scheduled: “Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano, Department of the Interior (DOI) Secretary Ken Salazar and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson will travel to the Gulf Coast on Friday at the request of President Obama to inspect ongoing operations dedicated to minimizing environmental risks in the areas affected by leaking oil -- part of their continued oversight and emphasis on interagency coordination in response to the BP Oil Spill.”

From the White House response fact sheet, per ABC’s Yunji de Nies: “The Administration immediately began holding regular calls with BP leadership and numerous senior-level meetings have been held between the administration and BP to discuss BP’s response effort and federal oversight and support. The National Response Team (NRT), an organization of 16 federal departments and agencies responsible for coordinating emergency preparedness and response to oil and hazardous substance pollution incidents was quickly activated and a coordinated group of federal partners—including the United States Coast Guard, Departments of Homeland Security, Commerce, Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency—immediately began directing and overseeing BP’s response.”

On ABC’s “This Week” Sunday, with Jake Tapper: Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. The roundtable: Bill Maher, the Rev. Al Sharpton, Matthew Dowd, Katrina vanden Heuvel, and George Will.

Back to the debate -- oil drilling again atop your discussion agenda:

To say the least: “The leak is occurring at an awkward time for the president, who recently called to expand offshore drilling to reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil,” The Boston Globe’s Beth Daley reports.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.: “All of that has to be taken into consideration as we review the plan that the president put forth.”

Sen. Ben Cardin , D-Md. (a guest on ABC’s “Top Line” Friday, noon ET ABCNews.com): “These are the risks inherent in offshore drilling.”

Presidential glimpses on Friday, per ABC’s Sunlen Miller : “This morning President Obama will make a statement on the first quarter 2010 GDP numbers in the Rose Garden. Joining him for his remarks will be representatives and workers from two U.S. manufacturers: Itron, a Washington state based manufacturer of smart energy meters, and A123 Systems, a Massachusetts based advanced battery manufacturer.”

On to those other choppy waters -- a critical time for Gov. Charlie Crist, as he scrambles to hold on to money and personnel, while defining what this candidacy is all about. “No Party Affiliation” doesn’t really help, so far as effective communication strategies go.

“Gov. Charlie Crist didn't just walk away from the Republican Party Thursday — he ran, saying he would abandon his lifelong GOP voter registration as he launches an independent and unprecedented campaign for the U.S. Senate,” Adam C. Smith and Beth Reinhold write , in the St. Petersburg Times. “Crist faces crucial unanswered questions going forward, including whether he can raise enough money and hire capable campaign professionals.”

Framing: “This has nothing to do with ideas or principles or ideology; it's about, quite frankly, political convenience,” Marco Rubio told ABC News' Terry Moran, for a day-in-the-life profile Thursday on “Nightline.”

“This country already has a Democrat Party,” said Rubio. “It doesn't need two Democrat parties.”

Rubio’s message to Crist donors: “Maybe you can get it back and give it to us because we will stand up to that agenda and offer a clear alternative.”

How long will this answer last? “As he was thronged by supporters following his speech, Crist indicated to POLITICO that he was not committed to caucusing with either party should he win the race,” Jonathan Martin reports. “I’m going to caucus with the people of Florida – and whoever will help them,” he said in between handshakes and autographs.

The AP’s Ron Fournier : “It's an American story -- a tale of two parties driven by their ideologues, squeezing out moderate candidates, alienating independent voters and isolating the only place in U.S. politics where most things get done: the middle. ... No matter who wins a three-way race in Florida, the factors that drove Crist from the GOP are a microcosm of broader political and social changes contributing to polarization.”

The national implications: “His decision speaks to a paradox that confronts Republicans this year: Even as they are experiencing what may be their best congressional election prospects in more than a decade, the party is engaged in an ideological struggle for its soul,” Karen Tumulty writes in The Washington Post .

David Axelrod, on “GMA”: “He’s been run out of the party. And it really speaks to the way the party’s moving to the right. I mean, we have a big tent, they have a lean-to now -- and he didn’t fit under it.”

Crist’s chances? “It is so spectacularly unlikely that this presents Charlie a path to victory that it's almost not worth discussing,” GOP strategist Rick Wilson said Thursday on ABC’s “Top Line.”

Among those relieved: “It's funny how a choice that makes total sense at the time can turn out so, so badly,” Todd J. Gillman reports in The Dallas Morning News. “For Texas Sen. John Cornyn, such was the case in his early and ardent embrace of Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, from which he has spent months backpedaling.”

Immigration, again: “Despite President Obama's trepidation about moving this year toward an immigration reform bill, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, said today ‘We can and should’ pass something,” per ABC’s Z. Byron Wolf. “An outline of a immigration legislation - a 26-page, nine-point document - is being circulated among interest groups by Schumer, D-NY, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Sen. Bob Menendez, D-NJ.”

Careful, now: “Responding to critics, top Senate Democrats are emphasizing border security. On Thursday, they unveiled a detailed outline of legislation that would require a variety of security benchmarks to be met before people already in the country illegally could become legal residents,” Laura Meckler writes in The Wall Street Journal. “Democratic senators and advocates of an overhaul will now shop the proposal to select Senate Republicans.”

The legal end: “A team of top government lawyers has quietly begun studying legal strategies for the Obama administration to mount a challenge to Arizona's new illegal immigration law, including the filing of a federal lawsuit against the state or joining a suit brought by others who believe the bill unfairly targets Latinos,” the Los Angeles Times’ Richard A. Serrano and Peter Nicholas report .

National Journal’s Ron Brownstein , on “The Immigration Impasse”: “The larger threat is to America's social cohesion. Democrats, with their own divisions, can't reform the immigration system alone. Either both parties will accept that responsibility or the nation will likely suffer through years of sharpening social division symbolized by the escalating battle over Arizona.”

Good way to spend a Saturday? “In the wake of a new Arizona law aimed at illegal immigrants, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) on Saturday is going to join demonstrators at the White House who will likely be arrested for their protests,” Lynn Sweet reports in the Chicago Sun-Times. “He expects to be booked and released.”

SCOTUS rumblings... Justice Thomas? ABC’s Jake Tapper : “Days away from picking a Supreme Court nominee to fill the robe of Justice John Paul Stevens, President Obama today interviewed Montana Judge Sidney Runyan Thomas at the White House, a senior administration official tells ABC News. The interview, first reported by the Associated Press's Ben Feller, is one of several the president has had in recent days with other potential candidates, the official says.”

Next turn of a big screw: “The Securities and Exchange Commission has referred its investigation of Goldman Sachs to the Justice Department for possible criminal prosecution, less than two weeks after filing a civil securities fraud case against the firm,” Zachary Goldfarb reports in The Washington Post.

Teamwork: “President Barack Obama, trying to head off a staff exodus after the November elections, has been pressing members of his economic team to stay with his administration until the economy is on a stronger footing,” The Wall Street Journal’s Jonathan Weisman reports . “Despite Mr. Obama's efforts, some members of the team, such as White House Budget Director Peter Orszag and Council of Economic Advisers Chairwoman Christina Romer, are still eying the exits.”

Looking back -- Desiree Rogers: “If the worst thing that happened to me is, you know, someone said I was beautiful and I had on the wrong dress, and I should have had a clipboard, you know, OK,” Rogers said during her first public speaking appearance since her departure as White House social secretary, per Bloomberg’s John McCormick . “I’m comfortable with the work we did.”

Of Bushes and books... “Is George W. Bush about to start a political comeback?” McClatchy’s Steven Thomma asks . “Now, some events might be turning in Bush's favor just as he and his family emerge to tell their side of the story, first with the release this week of Laura Bush's memoir, ‘Spoken From the Heart,’ then in November with the release of his book, ‘Decision Points.’ ”

In Washington State -- the Dan Coatsing of Dino Rossi: “Democrats stepped up their pre-emptive campaign against potential Republican Senate candidate Dino Rossi on Thursday, alleging that $20,000 in delinquent property taxes owed by his business partners show poor ethical standards on his part,” the AP’s Curt Woodward writes . “Rossi, a two-time gubernatorial runner-up, is mulling a possible run against Democratic Sen. Patty Murray. Rossi dismissed Thursday's Democratic attacks as inaccurate and said he has no direct ties to the property in question.”

In Louisiana -- a major labor investment: “The Service Employees International Union will launch a series of television and radio ads taking Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D) to task for her record on trade, the leading edge of a seven-figure expenditure from the union in advance of her May 18 primary showdown against Lt. Gov Bill Halter,” Chris Cillizza reports on “The Fix” blog.

Watch the newest SEIU ad HERE.

In New Hampshire -- tough polling for the Democrats: “U.S. Rep. Paul Hodes is trailing most Republican candidates in the race for U.S. Senate in the latest poll,” WMUR reports . “Four Republicans are vying for the nomination to face Hodes, and the latest WMUR Granite State Poll shows Hodes potentially losing significantly to one of them and in tight races with the other.”

And setting up for nerd prom... ABC’s Karen Travers : “What do actress Elisabeth Shue, tween sensation Justin Bieber, Academy Award winning director Kathryn Bigelow and ubiquitous television personality Ryan Seacrest all have in common this weekend?

They are just some of the A-list celebrities who will jet into Washington this weekend to attend the annual White House Correspondents' Association Dinner, the premiere black tie event in the nation's capital. It is the one weekend a year when stodgy Washington can compete with Hollywood for glitz, glamour and celebrity star power.”

I’ll be on the red carpet Saturday night pre-dinner, with Ana Marie Cox, asking Washington folks what they’re wearing, and asking Hollywood types what they think of cap-and-trade. Check out our coverage at ABCNews.com and ABC NewsNOW over the weekend and into next week.

Politico’s John F. Harris heads to Burbank to get Jay Leno’s take, in advance of appearance No. 5: “This is not a bully pulpit,” Leno said. “It’s not power you’re looking for; it’s laughs. And if you’re seeking anything else, then ultimately you fail. If you have any other agenda, other than laughs — whether it’s power, whether it’s showing how smart you are, whether it’s to impress them with your political acumen or how liberal you are or how conservative you are — then it’s not working for you.”

The Kicker:

“I just needed some sleep, and so that was the tradeoff.” -- Desiree Rogers , wishing she had spent more time networking while in Washington.

“Where are your pants?” -- Rielle Hunter , quoting John Edwards when he saw her photo spread in GQ magazine, to Oprah.

For up-to-the-minute political updates check out The Note’s blog . . . all day every day: http://blogs.abcnews.com/thenote/

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