President Barack Obama is due to take off this month for a trip to Australia and Indonesia that he has already rescheduled once because of pressing matters here in the United States. In March, the imminent passage of healthcare reform prompted him to put off the journey until June.
Now the talk in Washington is that the BP oil spill soiling the Gulf of Mexico could force him to put off the trip again — or even cancel it for good.
Oil has been gushing into the Gulf since April 20, when the Transocean Ltd drilling rig Deepwater Horizon licensed to BP exploded, killing 11 workers. The oil has devastated the ecology and economies of Gulf Coast states and put intense pressure on Obama to not just do something to stop it — a task that so far has proved impossible for BP — but to prove to Americans that he cares, and cares deeply, about the crisis.
The president has been lambasted for what is seen as his failure to do so. “The man who walked on water is now ensnared by a crisis under water,” columnist Maureen Dowd wrote in The New York Times. He has been hit hard for spending time on what are seen as frivolous presidential events, such as meetings with championship sports teams, or last night’s White House concert with Paul McCartney.
The trip to Australia and Indonesia could be labeled as more of the same, and speculation has been thick in Washington that Obama will call it off in order to show the nation he is firmly at the helm of the Gulf crisis. How could he risk being photographed on a beach in Bali while the U.S. coast is lapped with oil?