WASHINGTON -- Old wounds were reopened this week as the White House forcefully responded to charges leveled by Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-La.) that President Obama's response to the oil spill crisis was inadequate and ineffective.
Jindal's salvos were delivered in his new book -- "Leadership and Crisis" -- which portrays Obama as being disconnected from this summer's Gulf spill. Promoting the book's release during an appearance on Morning Joe on Monday, Jindal dug even deeper, insisting that the only way to spur the administration into action was by complaining to the press.
"I know this White House was very worried about their public perception. The second time he came down he yelled at me and [President of Plaquemines Parish] Billy Nungesser for going on TV. But it was the only way you could get action out of this White House."
The accusation, as well as others in the book, left the impression that Obama was more preoccupied with his public perception than the crisis itself. And not surprisingly, the White House protested the portrayal.
One administration aide told The Huffington Post that it was absurd for Jindal to call Obama detached. The president and his team "had calls every day (7 days a week) with the governor himself for more than three months." Leading those calls were top-ranking aides such as Valerie Jarrett and Cecilia Munoz -- White House Office Intergovernmental Affairs -- as well as top-ranking agency officials.
"The whole point of the calls was to give the governors access to someone close to the President -- we wanted to make sure they knew everything we did, and that we knew every one of their concerns," the aide said. "We answered every question they had -- kept notes on each one so that we could get answers when we didn't have them immediately."
Jindal, for his part, has argued that access wasn't necessarily the problem. Action was. And in his book he writes that his relationship with the president fell apart as soon as he began demanding swifter movement on issues like oil removal, ecological protection and, most specifically, food stamps for workers thrown out of a job by the oil spill.
Here too, however, the administration disputes Jindal's recollection of events.
According to the governor's book, Obama rebuked him in private for publicly requesting food stamp assistance during a press conference on May 1. "Careful, this is going to get bad for everyone," Jindal quoted the president as saying.
But this appears at odds with the other communiqués that the administration and the governor's office were having at the time. For starters, Jindal's press conference, in which he lamented the red tape surrounding food stamps, appeared to take place the same day that he formally made the request for assistance to the administration -- not exactly a lengthy period of time for the White House to take action. Even then, the administration did respond fairly quickly. On May 3, two days after Jindall wrote a letter to the Department of Agriculture "formally requesting" authorization under the Oil Pollution Act "the distribution of commodities to disaster relief agencies and the state, as is done under the Food Stamp Act of 1977," the department's secretary responded kindly.
"Immediately, I urge you to fully avail Louisiana and its eligible citizens of the nutritional (and personal economic) help provided by the regular Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP)," wrote Secretary Tom Vilsack. "I have directed the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) to work with your State on available State options that can result in easier access for many thousands of Louisianians. USDA estimates that today, before the economic effects of the oil spill, there are many tens of thousands of Louisianians currently eligible for SNAP who are not participating in this program. The core SNAP program provides immediate help; moreover, the benefits of this program are available throughout the year for all eligible persons. And, as you are aware, the State is notrequired to share in the cost of the benefit; it is fully federally-funded."