Obama press conference: 'anger and frustration' over oil spill

The president defended his administration’s performance. But the Obama press conference comes as a Gallup Poll finds public dissatisfaction with the handling of the crisis.

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
Obama press conference: President Barack Obama addresses the press in the East Room of the White House in Washington on Thursday. Obama promised to hold BP accountable in the catastrophic Gulf of Mexico oil spill and said his administration would do everything necessary to protect and restore the coast.

President Obama rejected criticism Friday of his handling of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster, saying, “This has been our highest priority since this crisis occurred.”

It has been more than five weeks since an oil rig leased by BP exploded and sank in the Gulf, and only now does there appear to be progress in plugging the massive leak. Speaking in a more than hour-long press conference in the East Room, Mr. Obama defended his administration’s performance and said he was “angry and frustrated” by the spill.

“This notion that somehow 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 a whole bunch of decisions is simply not true,” Obama said.

IN PICTURES: Louisiana oil spill

At the Obama press conference, the president said that the US government is in charge of making sure the response is “appropriate” and that BP bears financial responsibility. Obama also announced an additional six-month moratorium on exploratory deepwater drilling, suspension of planned exploration of two locations off Alaska’s coast, and the cancellation of oil-lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and off Virginia’s coast.

Obama acknowledged the political dimension of the disaster – then said, “but that’s not what I care about right now.”

Still, it has been lost on no one in political Washington that the public has grown increasingly impatient with the ongoing disaster and that it is taking a toll on the administration. A Gallup Poll released Thursday found that 53 percent of Americans rate Obama’s performance on the oil spill as “poor” or “very poor.” The federal government came out worse at 60 percent. And worse still was BP, at 73 percent “poor” or “very poor.”

Earlier this week, the White House announced that Obama will visit the Gulf region Friday, his second such visit since the spill began. But Obama continues to face criticism, including from within his own party, that he has seemed disengaged on the matter, even as photos and video of oil-soaked Louisiana marshland and wildlife horrify the public.

The early Republican criticism that this could become Obama’s “Katrina,” referring to the perception that President Bush was slow in responding to hurricane Katrina in 2005, has started to gain wider traction.

No less a Democratic ally than James Carville, now living in his native Louisiana, bashed Obama Wednesday for what he called the “political stupidity” of his response to the Gulf crisis. “I have no idea of why their attitude was so hands off here,” Mr. Carville said Wednesday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

Obama’s press conference – his first long, solo East Room appearance before the press corps since last July – seemed almost a direct response to Carville. In response to the 10th and final question of the afternoon, the president cast his reaction in personal terms, speaking of his native Hawaii.

“My job right now is just to make sure that everybody in the Gulf understands this is what I wake up to in the morning and this is what I go to bed at night thinking about – the spill,” he said.

On Thursday morning, he said, when he was shaving, his daughter Malia peeked her head into the bathroom and said, “Did you plug the hole yet, Daddy?”

“I think everybody understands that, you know, when we are fouling the earth like this, it has concrete complications not just for this generation but for future generations.

“I grew up in Hawaii, where the ocean is sacred. And when you see birds flying around with – with oil all over their feathers and turtles dying and – ... that doesn't just speak to the immediate economic consequences of this. This speaks to, you know, how are we caring for this incredible bounty that we have?”

IN PICTURES: Louisiana oil spill


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