By Ben Geman - 03/18/12 01:49 PM EDT
Mitt Romney is ramping up attacks on President Obama over rising gasoline prices by calling for the firing of Obama’s Interior and Energy secretaries and the head of the Environmental Protection Agency.
The GOP presidential frontrunner dubbed them the “gas hike trio” on Fox News Sunday and at a campaign stop in Illinois Saturday night, signaling the extent to which Republicans hope to translate pump prices into a damaging political liability for Obama.
On Fox, Romney claimed that Obama’s stated desire for lower gas prices is an election-year turnabout. “The right course is they ought to be fired because the president has apparently suffered an election-year conversion,” Romney said, echoing a line of attack he unveiled the prior evening.
Romney, speaking ahead of Illinois's Tuesday primary, wants Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to be shown the exits.
Regular gasoline is now averaging nearly $3.84-per-gallon nationwide, according to AAA, an increase of roughly 31 cents over the last month.
Administration officials including President Obama have strongly denied GOP claims that they’ve hatched a plot to increase prices, which have surged in recent weeks.
Obama dismissed the idea at a press conference this month. Chu has in recent years and days repeatedly disavowed comments he made in 2008, before becoming Energy Secretary, that he supported boosting prices to levels in Europe.
Chu, according to a now-infamous 2008 Wall Street Journal story, called for gradually boosting gasoline taxes over 15 years to coax consumers into buying more efficient cars.
But administration officials say they want prices headed downward. “Right now there is real hardship that Americans are suffering at the gasoline pump,” Chu said March 13, and he added that another spike in prices could threaten the economic recovery.
“There are many, many reasons why we do not want the price of gasoline to go up, we want it to go down,” he said.
Obama, seeking to blunt attacks over rising prices, has given a series of recent speeches warning that there are no quick fixes to the problem while emphasizing that his administration is committed to rooting out any potential market manipulation.
The president is embarking on a multi-state tour in coming days where he’ll continue emphasizing that U.S. oil production is rising, his support for expanded U.S. drilling, green energy investments and tougher fuel economy rules his administration is implementing
But Romney and other critics say Obama places too many federal lands and waters off-limits to development, and also allege that administration environmental rules are too burdensome.
“Of course we want a clean environment, of course we want to preserve species, but we can't have these regulators, who, in the name of regulation, in the name of protecting and securing, are really trying to kill enterprise,” Romney said, according to the Times.
Romney's pouncing at a time when energy costs are becoming a vulnerability for Obama.
A Washington Post/ABC News poll released last Monday found only 26 percent of adults surveyed approve of Obama’s handling of rising gas prices, a poll that also showed that 59 percent disapprove of how Obama is handling the economy.
This post was updated at 10:22 a.m.