Rep. Elijah E. Cummings expressed optimism, near the close of a day-long visit to the Gulf coast Tuesday, that attempts to contain and eventually stop the worst oil spill in U.S. history are making progress.

The Baltimore Democrat said after talks with BP and government officials that efforts to drill a relief well, expected to take at least two more months, "right now are ahead of schedule, which is good." He also reiterated the view of BP officials that a separate attempt this week to contain the spill "will be successful" and will have a "tremendous" impact on slowing the leakage.


Cummings, a strong supporter of President Barack Obama, rejected efforts by Republicans and other critics to compare the U.S. response to the Gulf of Mexico spill to the Bush administration's mishandling of Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.

"I don't see it as his Katrina," said Cummings, who co-chaired Obama's 2008 campaign in Maryland. "I do see it as something that he has to deal with very carefully and must stay on top of it every second."

The president resumed a stepped-up effort to limit political damage from the environmental disaster Tuesday. He met with leaders of his oil-spill investigative panel and promised afterward that they would "follow the facts wherever they may lead, without fear or favor."

Obama also dispatched Attorney General Eric Holder to New Orleans. There, Holder announced that the Justice Department has launched a civil and criminal investigation into the Deepwater Horizon explosion, which killed 11 and is now wreaking ecological and economic damage along the southern U.S. coast. Cummings said Obama had reacted to the spill with "pretty good speed. I just think there was so much to deal with at one time."

He added that Obama has "got to make sure that he hold BP responsible, and that the public feels confident that this is not going to happen again."

His visit to the scene and talks with officials there left him with "a greater sense of confidence that this matter is being handled in a way where we've got the best minds in the world, both in industry and in government, trying to work this situation out," Cumming said in a phone interview.

But he said he conveyed to officials there that the public is losing patience with repeated failures to stem the flow of oil, six weeks after the spill began.

The Maryland lawmaker, who chairs a House Coast Guard subcommittee, said new legislation may be needed to give the Coast Guard a greater role in planning the government's emergency response to any future off-shore drilling mishaps. He said the Coast Guard has now tripled the size of its contingent in the Gulf, where its duties include oversight of the contractors and subcontractors hired by BP to clean up and contain the spill.

Cummings said he is not prepared to support a ban on all Outer Continental Shelf drilling off the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, as proposed by Democratic Rep. Corrine Brown of Florida, one of two other lawmakers invited on the congressional tour.

"I want to see what the research shows. I want to be fair," he said.