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Send military to fight oil spill, Florida senator urges Obama

From Dana Bash, CNN Senior Congressional Correspondent
  • Senator says Pentagon can take 'prompt, effective action'
  • Aide cites Haiti response as example
  • Admiral says additional steps limited

(CNN) -- Florida Sen. Bill Nelson formally asked President Barack Obama Wednesday to consider "more fully involving the Department of Defense" to beef up the response to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, according to a letter obtained by CNN.

Last week, Nelson told CNN that if the "top kill" operation to stem the oil leak did not work, the president must not only take more control, but use the military to do so. In the letter, Nelson urges the president to enlist the military to "augment the massive public and private response to the growing oil spill in the Gulf."

"While the Coast Guard, under the Department of Homeland Security, and the National Guard both are involved, it is my belief that the broader assets and command and control capability of the Department of Defense could better translate your directives into prompt, effective action," Nelson wrote.

"Americans need to feel that their government is taking an all hands on deck response," he added.

The senator's office has done a review of previous operations where the military was used in disaster relief missions, most recently in Haiti, an aide told CNN. Following the devastating January earthquake there, the president signed an executive order saying, "I hereby determine that it is necessary to augment the active Armed Forces of the United States for the effective conduct of operational missions."

The Nelson aide said while there are clear differences between the two events, the senator believes the military's involvement in Haiti was crucial in establishing command and control that is now lacking in the government's response in the Gulf. There has been resistance to this idea at the White House, and the Pentagon.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told CNN on Sunday he did not think there is "anything obvious" for the military to do beyond the current support role.

"We have participated in the meetings here in Washington and actually down on the scene," Mullen said on CNN's "State of the Union." "We are offering everything we can possibly do to try to help."

Nelson's letter to the president notes that former Secretary of State Colin Powell said over the weekend that a "comprehensive total attack" is the best way to protect the Gulf of Mexico's coastal economies and environments.