Updated: 6:38 p.m.
House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.) and Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) on Tuesday joined the chorus of GOP Members accusing President Barack Obama of trying to exploit the Gulf Coast oil spill to resurrect cap-and-trade energy legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“The American people expect that this administration will not use this opportunity to advance their liberal agenda,” Pence told reporters. “Our nation wants this president to work the problem, not work his liberal agenda on energy.”
Pence predicted that Obama would use his scheduled prime-time televised address from the oval office Tuesday night “to advance his disastrous national energy tax known as the cap-and-trade.”
The GOP lawmakers’ comments were just one of many attempts by House Republican leaders to derail Democrats’ efforts to reassure the public that Obama is in control of the situation in the Gulf.
Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Chief Deputy Minority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) will host a meeting with Gulf Coast Republicans on June 22 to assess the crisis, discuss Democratic legislation that could be brought to the floor and suggest possible GOP responses to the disaster, according to an internal e-mail obtained by Roll Call.
Part of that strategy appears to include blasting Obama for what they say is an attempt to use the spill to make a case for broader energy legislation.
“Right now, unfortunately, you have the president trying to exploit this disaster to pass his national energy tax instead of actually meeting his obligation under the law to lead,” Scalise said. “Instead he’s ceded much of that responsibility to BP, allowing BP to make decisions on the ground.”
In an e-mailed statement, Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said the public wants “the president focused on stopping the leak and finding out what went wrong, not on twisting lawmakers’ arms on Capitol Hill.”
Top executives from five major oil companies were called to appear Tuesday morning before an Energy and Commerce subcommittee chaired by Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.). Republicans have charged that the 30-plus hearings that Democrats have called since the spill began on April 20 are premature and divert attention from the more immediate need to cap the well.
Scalise, who on June 11 toured Grand Isle, La., where oil is already coming ashore, said local officials there were frustrated with what they characterized as a slow federal response to the spill.
“Most tell me that they spend more time battling the federal government and BP than they are battling the oil,” he said. “There’s no excuse for that.”
Scalise also took after the administration for curbing offshore drilling in response to the spill, saying the “job-killing ban on drilling” was “causing more problems right now than the oil long term” by threatening more than 40,000 jobs while doing nothing to actually cap the well that continues to spew oil into the Gulf nearly two months after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded.
“We want the president to start leading, to actually meet his obligations under the law, to take control of this situation, instead of continuing to blame everybody else, and any time something goes wrong, nobody is held accountable,” he said.
Obama, who is wrapping up his tour of the Gulf region, said Tuesday that he plans to use the Oval Office address to talk about BP responding to claims “quickly and fairly.”
“What we’ve done is try to find out from local business owners, local officials as well as state officials … how the response can be most effective here specifically,” Obama said.