McConnell criticizes administration oversight of regulators on Gulf oil spill

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) on Tuesday criticized the Obama administration's oversight of companies involved in the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

McConnell said administration officials such as Interior Secretary Ken Salazar need to more fully answer why regulations weren't enforced on the oil rig that exploded April 20 and sank in the Gulf two days later. Salazar was on the Hill Tuesday to testify before the Senate's energy and environmental committees.

“In addition to the companies that were drilling, it is important also to know what the administration approved,” McConnell said. “We know that this administration approved the site. We know that this administration approved the spill response plan. And hopefully in the course of the testimony we will be able to figure out what went wrong not only with the companies themselves but with the oversight of the companies.”

Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) gave a bemused smile when asked for a response.

“It certainly happened on the administration's watch, but I think we're still trying to determine to what extent it was caused by failures in the companies involved, to what extent it was human error, to what extent it was inadequate regulation,” the senator said. “All of those are possible causes.”

Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) laughed when told of McConnell's statement.

“Drill, baby drill,” Durbin said, echoing Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele's 2008 catchphrase. “Republicans fail to acknowledge the obvious, and that is that these oil companies and drilling rigs were the ones on the ground, on the ocean, doing their job. And if they didn't do it right, we can understand there would be bad results. It's natural that he would blame Obama. I'm sure he blames him for everything.”

Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) defended McConnell's claim, noting that President Barack Obama himself had proposed expanded oil drilling in a recent energy plan proposal.

“The last person to endorse offshore drilling was the president,” Alexander said.

This story was updated at 4:59 p.m.