President Obama said Thursday he is "angry and frustrated" about the slow pace of capping the BP oil spill and that his administration is "singularly focused" on stopping the underwater gusher.
"My job is to get this fixed. And in case anybody wonders -- in any of your reporting, in case you're wondering who's responsible, I take responsibility. It is my job to make sure that everything is done to shut this down," Obama said during a press conference.
Obama said he did not know if the Department of Interior official overseeing the catastrophe who left the job on Thursday was fired or allowed to resign. Asked about the departure of Elizabeth Birnbaum as director of the Minerals Management Service, Obama said, "I don't know the circumstances in which this occurred."
The press conference -- a 63 minute session where Obama took questions from 10 journalists -- was called to show that the Obama White House is on top of the disaster in the Gulf. His administration faces critics from both sides of the aisle because of the inability to cap the leak and stop the oil spread. But Obama defended his administration's actions, saying his team is not "sitting on the sidelines."
Obama ordered a stop to drilling at 33 deep water Gulf of Mexico rigs for six months, a suspension of exploration off the coast of Alaska, and cancellation of pending lease sales in Virginia and the Gulf. No new deep water drilling permits will be issued for six months. Last March, Obama proposed allowing expanded offshore drilling in the Atlantic and Gulf coasts and in Alaska, a plan that is now on hold.
Two polls published this week
said that a majority of Americans gave Obama negative marks for his handling of the oil spill.
The highlights from the press conference:
- Obama stressed that while BP is responsible for the spill, the federal government and his White House are calling the ultimate shots.
"The American people should know that from the moment this disaster began, the federal government has been in charge of the response effort. As far as I'm concerned, BP is responsible for this horrific disaster, and we will hold them fully accountable on behalf of the United States as well as the people and communities victimized by this tragedy," Obama said.
"We will demand that they pay every dime they owe for the damage they've done and the painful losses that they've caused. And we will continue to take full advantage of the unique technology and expertise they have to help stop this leak.
"But make no mistake: BP is operating at our direction."
- Obama said he understood "the enormous sense of anger and frustration felt by people on the Gulf and so many Americans. Every day I see this leak continue, I am angry and frustrated as well."
- Obama strongly rejected a suggestion that the BP spill was his "Katrina." Obama, as a U.S. Senator from Illinois, early on criticized the Bush White House response to Hurricane Katrina.
"And when the problem is solved and people look back and do an assessment of all the various decisions that were made, I think people can make a historical judgment. And I'm confident that people are going to look back and say that this administration was on top of what was an unprecedented crisis," he said.