OCEAN SPRINGS, Mississippi (Reuters) - Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal in a new book accuses the White House of caring more about President Barack Obama’s image during the BP oil spill than fixing the problem itself.
The government led a “lackadaisical” response and the White House was guilty of “political posturing” over the spill, said Jindal, a conservative and the nation’s first Indian-American governor. Jindal’s name has come up as a possible candidate for the Republican party’s presidential nomination in 2012.
The 256-page “Leadership and Crisis”, which is part autobiography and part conservative manifesto, contains a long chapter on the spill with behind-the-scenes detail and singles out the federal government for criticism.
“The White House seemed to focus on the wrong things. I felt like we needed to be on a wartime footing against the oil, and the president was wondering, why is everybody criticizing me,” Jindal said.
Millions of gallons of oil gushed into the Gulf of Mexico between April and July after a BP rig exploded and sank. The spill, which made headlines for months, damaged the environment and economy of coastal states including Louisiana.
It also forced the White House to fend off accusations by Jindal, other coastal governors and local leaders that it was moving too slowly to cap the well and provide equipment needed to contain the flow of oil and prevent damage to coastlines.
Jindal has built his reputation on his ability as a crisis manager who could better the performance of his predecessor during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and his frequent press conferences during the spill boosted his national profile.
“You would think following the withering criticism of President (George W.) Bush during Hurricane Katrina that the federal response this time would have been swift and sure .... You would have thought that a White House so concerned about its image would have been all over this,” he said.
The book, published on Monday, contains conversations that cast Obama in an unflattering light.
Jindal said Obama was furious with him the first time he flew to Louisiana after the spill began because of a letter requesting food stamps for workers impacted by the disaster.
Obama quietly scolded him while then chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, cursed Jindal’s chief of staff. A second meeting went no better because Obama was upset about televised criticism.
“He was concerned about looking bad because of the letter. “‘Careful,’ he said to me, ‘this is going to get bad for everyone,’” Jindal said, describing the scene as “almost surreal”.
The White House was “making decisions about an industry (oil) they knew little about,” says the book, which also blasts the government for deficit spending and health care reform.
“The federal government’s response to the oil spill was lackadaisical almost from the start,” Jindal said, repeating criticism he made frequently during the spill itself.
The book also takes aim at members of Congress whom Jindal compares to “little kids” who “place their own political interests ahead of their constituents.”
The book from Regnery Publishing was originally titled “Real Hope, Real Change” but that was changed after the spill, a publicist said.
Editing by Matthew Bigg and Greg McCune