OBAMA’S MESSAGE ON GAS PRICES TAKES SHAPE…. With gas prices rising, and consumers’ frustrations mounting, policymakers are adjusting their rhetoric accordingly. Whereas, a few months ago, the typical political speech would make few if any references to energy policy, now it’s a major topic of conversation.

For congressional Republicans, this means talking about drilling and, well, that’s pretty much the long and the short of the GOP energy policy. That expanded drilling wouldn’t have a meaningful impact on today’s supply and demand is a minor detail, better left ignored.

For the White House, there’s a very different message.

With U.S. gasoline prices soaring, the Obama administration Thursday unveiled a working group of federal agencies to probe potential fraud in the energy markets. […]

The Justice Department announced the working group, which will include representatives from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Reserve Board, and the Securities and Exchange Commission, as well as the Agriculture, Energy, Justice and Treasury departments.

“We will be vigilant in monitoring the oil and gas markets for any wrongdoing so that consumers can be confident they are not paying higher prices as a result of illegal activity,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said in a statement unveiling the effort.

Obama devoted considerable time to the subject of rising gasoline prices this week, seeking to reassure Americans that there was enough global oil supply and blaming soaring gasoline prices on speculators.

Indeed, the president’s focus on speculators has increased considerably this week. Yesterday, he told voters in Nevada that his team intends, “to root out any cases of fraud or manipulation in the oil markets that might affect gas prices — and that includes the role of traders and speculators.”

Obama was also quick to remind voters that he, unlike a certain political party that runs the House, is eager to end tax subsidies to the oil companies making consumers so upset.

I can’t say whether the Justice probe will turn up anything, whether speculators bear responsibility, or whether Republicans will budge on Big Oil subsidies, but I can say that as messages go, this at least beats “Drill, Baby, Drill.”

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.