Before heading for Louisiana tomorrow to monitor progress on the BP oil leak crisis, today President Obama got in front of the story with a White House press conference devoted to his response to the worst oil disaster in U.S. history. Faced with mounting disappointment that his administration is not doing enough to stop the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico, and that he hasn’t shown sufficient anger at the lack of oversight, the President aimed to show that he been engaged since the beginning, and that he is in control… “Make no mistake,” Obama said during remarks on containment efforts, “BP is operating at our direction.” While stressing that the company is responsible and will be held accountable, he declared that all their actions require government approval, and they must follow government orders. The President listed various steps his administration has taken, including the number of booms used, assisting fishermen and restaurant owners with loans, a moratorium on drilling permits for the next six months, and a suspension on planned drilling off the coast of Alaska, Virginia and on the Gulf. He is also creating a commission to carefully study everything that went wrong in this case, and what proactive solutions must be set up to prevent such a disaster from happening again. “This notion somehow that the federal government is sitting on the sidelines and for the last three or four or five weeks we’ve just been letting BP make the decisions is not true,” he said. “Those who think we are either slow on our response or lacked urgency don’t know the facts.” He also conceded that they haven’t done everything perfectly, and can always do better: Lack of Agency Oversight President Obama attributed some of this problem to the Bush administration, asserting that his Interior Secretary Ken Salazar came in to clean house and change that. “But the culture hadn’t fully changed,” he said, and admitted that there wasn’t a sense of urgency to move faster. Second Thoughts on Offshore Drilling? Asked if he regretted pushing for expanded drilling off the coast of the United States, the President said no. “Where I was wrong was in my belief that the oil companies had their act together when it came to worse-case scenarios,” he said, adding that his new commission will work to change that. But he maintained that it’s still valid to have domestic oil production as part of a broad energy strategy, especially since the nation is several years away from a full transition to clean, renewable energy sources. Is This Obama’s Katrina? President Obama dismissed comparisons that have been made between his response to the catastrophe and Bush’s terribly delayed response to Hurricane Katrina. “What I’m spending my time thinking about is how do we solve the problem?” He said that people can form their own opinions, but he expects that, once the situation is under control, the historical judgment of his response will be that it was up to standard. Malia is on the Case! Bringing a personal touch to the discussion, President Obama described his frustration at the spill’s devastation to our natural resources, saying, “I grew up in Hawaii, where the ocean is sacred.” He said not only is he deeply consumed by the leaking oil — his 11-year-old daughter Malia is too. “When I woke up this morning and I’m shaving, and Malia knocks on my bathroom door, she says, ‘Did you plug the hole yet, Daddy?'” Ultimately, President Obama confirmed that the buck stops with him. While some were perhaps looking for fiery, angry remarks today… that’s not his presidential style. Instead, he stuck with his calm, measured and confident demeanor while taking questions from the press — and hoped that will be enough to assure the nation that he’s got a handle on the situation. For more of Cynthia Gordy‘s Obama Watch stories, click here.
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