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White House plays defense on gas prices

Members of the Obama administration are highlighting the work the president has done on energy, seeking to deflect Republican criticism that gas prices have remained at record highs due to his policies.

While they stress that the administration itself has few tools to directly lower the price of oil, officials are seeking to assuage voters’ concerns over rising gas prices.

“The president obviously feels the pain that the American people are facing with respect to gas prices,” said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, making a rare appearance at Monday’s White House press briefing.

His remarks came a day after the administration released a review of the president’s energy policy, conducted by the heads of six cabinet departments -- including Salazar -- as well as the president’s deputy assistant on energy and climate change, Heather Zichal.

The report touted the annual increase in domestic oil production since President Obama took office, as well as the “historic” fuel economy standards his administration put in place, including the first-ever standards on trucks.

But even as the 19-page review sought to highlight the work the administration has done, Republicans capitalized on a Washington Post/ABC poll released Monday that showed only 26% of Americans approve of Obama’s handling of gas prices.

“For three years President Obama failed to put forward a comprehensive energy plan and today Americans are reeling from the consequences as gas prices continue to soar,” Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kristen Kukowski said in a statement. “No amount of Obama speeches, television interviews, or reports taking credit for work done in spite of this president is going to change that.”

Based on poll numbers alone, however, the degree to which high gas prices might affect Obama’s political standing seems inconclusive. An NBC survey released last week found that a majority of respondents -– 51% –- said rising gas prices had just some impact or no impact at all on them.

But that hasn’t stopped Republicans on the campaign trail from slamming the president’s handling of the issue –- or from the White House from trying to defend itself.

Newt Gingrich, who has pledged to reduce gas prices to $2.50 if elected, criticized the president’s energy policy while campaigning in Mississippi on Sunday.

“Obama is following a policy that minimizes creation of jobs and maximizes the cost of gasoline,” he said.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney seemed to directly push back on Gingrich’s $2.50-a-gallon pledge during today’s briefing.

“What [Obama] is not willing to do is to look the American people in the eye and claim that there is a strategy by which he can guarantee the price of gas will be $2.50 at the pump,” Carney said. “Any politician who does that is lying.”