(CNN) -- President Barack Obama bluntly defended his administration's response to the undersea gusher fouling the Gulf of Mexico on Monday, telling an interviewer he has met with experts to learn "whose ass to kick."
"I was down there a month ago, before most of these talking heads were even paying attention to the Gulf," Obama told NBC's "Today" show in an interview that aired Tuesday. "A month ago I was meeting with fishermen down there, standing in the rain talking about what a potential crisis this could be."
A variety of critics have accused Obama of being too cerebral in his reaction to the undersea gusher now fouling the Gulf of Mexico, of failing to put the full force of the administration and of putting too much trust in oil company BP. NBC's Matt Lauer asked Obama about the criticism that he should spend more time in the Gulf instead of with experts and "kick some butt."
Obama told NBC his deliberations have been more than academic.
"I don't sit around talking to experts because this is a college seminar," Obama continued. "We talk to these folks because they potentially have the best answers, so I know whose ass to kick."
The disaster was uncorked by an explosion aboard the offshore oil rig Deepwater Horizon on April 20 that killed 11 workers. The rig sank two days later, and estimates of the amount of oil pouring into the gulf from the undersea blowout grew rapidly in the following week.
Obama made a May 2 visit to the Coast Guard command center in Venice, Louisiana, warning during a rain-spattered news conference that the problem may take "many days" to solve. The Coast Guard and the Department of the Interior, which oversees offshore oil drilling, were already heavily involved with well owner BP in trying to corral the leak.
But by then, conservative commentators -- some of whom had defended the Bush administration's lackluster response to 2005's Hurricane Katrina -- were billing the disaster "Obama's Katrina," and complaints about the pace and the amount of muscle the White House has put behind the cleanup have come from a handful of Democrats as well.