Pawlenty: Obama should have taken charge sooner

Published 10:50 am Friday, May 28, 2010

Prospective presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty on Thursday questioned the pace of the government’s response to the BP oil spill without casting blame for the disaster itself.

Minnesota’s Republican governor gave his most detailed reaction yet to the nation’s worst-ever oil disaster during a traveling version of NBC’s “Meet the Press.” He spoke hours after President Barack Obama took responsibility for heading off the underwater spill spewing millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

“If he wants to say he’s in charge, that’s great,” Pawlenty said. “I’m glad he is assuming responsibility and accountability. I wish he would have done it probably earlier.”

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Pawlenty gave a rhetorical critique of the federal government’s response to date, saying that current efforts to plug the leak by shooting heavy mud into the hole should have been tried sooner.

“Why aren’t more skimmers out there? Why aren’t they working longer hours?” Pawlenty asked. “Why did they rely just on BP early on to tell us what the volume of the leak was? Why didn’t we independently verify that?”

But Pawlenty drew a delicate line between second-guessing the response and pointing fingers for the spill, saying an investigation into company and regulatory actions must come first. He compared the situation to the Interstate 35W bridge collapse that killed 13 people in Minneapolis almost three years ago, which some people initially argued was the result of neglected maintenance on his watch. Federal regulators ultimately concluded a design flaw was the main cause.

“We have to make sure we know the facts before we make either a political or legal indictment,” Pawlenty said.

Pawlenty is winding down his second and final term as governor and is widely believed to be lining up a 2012 White House campaign. He said he won’t make a final decision until early next year.

Excerpts from the hourlong interview at the University of Minnesota by “Meet the Press” host David Gregory will air nationally Sunday. In February, Pawlenty appeared on the show for a solo interview.

Apart from the oil spill, Pawlenty tackled questions on immigration and financial industry bailouts enacted under the Obama and George W. Bush administrations.

Pawlenty said he supports the Arizona law requiring police enforcing another law to investigate the immigration status of people they suspect are in this country illegally.

On the bailouts, Pawlenty said he would have let insurance giant American International Group Inc. fail rather than have the federal government rescue it with taxpayer funds; AIG got the most government help. The bailout occurred under Bush as the economy was sliding into recession.

Gregory asked if he would have let the company default. Said Pawlenty: “I think so.”