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Obama Oil Spill Speech: TV Address Tonight From the Oval Office

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He came, he saw, he ate shrimp. Can he conquer? Tonight will tell. President Obama's fourth trip to the Gulf Coast, beginning Monday morning in Gulfport, Mississippi, and wrapping up Tuesday afternoon in Pensacola, Florida, has been one part charm offensive, one part listening tour and one part training session. His 24-hour visit to assess the impact of the spill on local economies and the latest on cleanup efforts will no doubt provide background for his address tonight from the Oval Office -- the first of his presidency.

But whether Obama can succeed in laying the case for the federal government's competency in handling the spill -- and use this to push for a comprehensive energy reform bill in Congress -- remains to be seen. On Monday in Mississippi, Obama threw down the gauntlet, saying, "I promise you this: Things are going to return to normal. And in the end, I am confident that we're going to be able to leave the Gulf Coast in better shape than it was before." Tonight's speech will be pivotal in determining whether he can gain the confidence of the public. (A new poll shows most Americans believe he hasn't been tough enough on BP.)

Obama's trip has provided him with experience that will come into play tonight. He has now seen firsthand the claims process in action: In Mississippi on Monday, Obama hinted at an expected White House announcement regarding BP's establishment of an escrow account -- run by an independent third party -- that will pay out claims for damages resulting from the spill, saying, "We're gathering up facts, stories right now so that we have an absolutely clear understanding about how we can best present to BP the need to make sure that individuals and businesses are dealt with in a fair manner and in a prompt manner."

On Tuesday morning, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs announced that the federal government would take over management of the claims process from BP if the company did not set up an independent entity to do so. Gibbs said, "The best way to prevail upon BP is to take the claims process away from BP." The energy company's officials, including chief executive Tony Hayward, will meet with the president at the White House on Wednesday to presumably put the icing on this arrangement -- which the president will no doubt make note of in his address tonight. Senior White House officials on Tuesday night did say, however, that the president would not specify who the third party is until after his meeting with BP officials.

More Oil Spill Coverage:

- BP Exec Refuses to Commit to Escrow Account for Gulf Damages
- Obama's Oval Office Address: Look to Jimmy Carter (No Kidding)
- Obama Has Not Been Tough Enough on BP, 7 of 10 Americans Say
- Oil Spill Casualties: New Orleans' Musicians and Service Workers
- Obama's First Oval Office Address: A Personal Decision to Focus on Gulf Spill
- Politics Daily: Full Coverage

Obama can also speak directly to the spill's impact on the regional economy. In Theodore, Alabama, on Monday afternoon, he announced "a comprehensive, coordinated, and multiagency initiative to ensure that seafood from the Gulf of Mexico is safe to eat." He did his best to lead by example, spending a good part of the day sampling local cuisine. (In Gulfport, Mississippi, it was mini crab cakes and fried shrimp, in Orange Beach, Alabama, there were crab claws and crawfish tails, and in Pensacola, Florida, it was a stop at the Fish Sandwich Snack Bar.)

Also in Florida on Tuesday, Obama outlined additional steps that would be put in place to aid local businesses, including naming local deputy incident commanders for each state affected by the oil spill. The president explained, "This is designed to make sure that on the federal response we are able to work and make decisions at a local level in response to the suggestions of people who know the communities best and know the waters best." On Tuesday evening, a senior White House official added that Obama would also announce a long-term plan for restoration of the gulf, determined by local officials and community leaders.

To those who have criticized Obama's lack of involvement in the spill effort, the president can claim some success in his speech tonight, having now spent hours empathizing with local officials and business leaders about the effects of the disaster. As Mayor Tony Kennon of Orange Beach, Alabama, said: "I feel like he understood our pain, the sense of urgency we have down here. But more importantly, he understood that this runs deeper than money. This is a culture, a way of life down here that is being threatened. And the only way to know that is to get down here and see it firsthand."

Criticized for showing a lack of emotion over the spill, Obama used strong, combative rhetoric at a speech Tuesday at the naval air base in Pensacola to describe the government's response to the spill, saying: "This is an assault on our shores and we're gonna fight back with everything we've got. And that includes mobilizing the resources of the greatest military in the world." He channeled the soaring language of speeches past, promising: "Make no mistake: The United States of America has gone through tough times before. And we always come out strong. And we will do so again. This region . . . will thrive again."

Finally, several hours before the president's speech on Tuesday night, the White House announced the appointment of Michael Bromwich to head the Minerals Management Service bureau. The appointment, made after the resignation of MMS head Elizabeth Birnbaum, comes amid broad criticism regarding regulatory failures within the federal government, which may have contributed to the BP disaster.
According to the official press release, Bromwich, a former assistant U.S. attorney and Justice Department inspector general, "will develop the plans for a new oversight structure, replacing long-standing, inadequate practices with a gold-standard approach for environmental and safety regulation." Senior White House officials said that the president would make note of Bromwich's appointment as proof of long-term planning to ensure that a disaster on the scale of the BP spill will not happen again.

Despite these proactive measures, on some "big ticket" items, the president will still face an uphill battle tonight. On Tuesday, the New York Times reported that the gulf cleanup "effort has been bedeviled by a lack of preparation, organization, urgency and clear lines of authority among federal, state and local officials, as well as BP. As a result . . . the damage to the coastline and wildlife has been worse than it might have been if the response had been faster and orchestrated more effectively." The article outlines numerous failures on the part of the federal government, especially in the areas of contingency planning, risk assessment, disaster response and coordination.

Obama will have to fend off this latest round of arrows in his address as he makes the case for his handling of the spill, which he has characterized as a "slow-motion disaster." Whatever its speed, tonight's speech will be critical in determining how soon Obama and his administration will be able to outpace the catastrophe.

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17 Comments

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Bud Parker

I am an oilfield worker in the Gulf of Mexico. I do not say this to convince you that I am an expert on every aspect of the technical details of ultra-deepwater drilling. I am not. However, after 20 years working in the Gulf I can speak to many issues. First of all, this is not an oil spill. Nothing spilled. It is a blowout. The central questions to this disaster are few. Primarily the most relevant question is this: What did BP shortcut that caused this blowout? I can tell you precisely what the motivation is. Money.

Offshore operations like the Deepwater Horizon are extremely expensive. The “Day Rate” is used to quantify (roughly) how much money it costs daily. The day rate for the Horizon alone was $500,000. Add the myriad of other expenses required to perform this drilling operation and the real figure could easily be $1M. Every day. That is $83,333 per hour. Because of the cost of operations many gambles are taken as a routine course of action. Hummm… If we do this risky action, we could save 6 days. Risky action it is! Decision makers bonuses are made by saving money. That is a super incentive to gamble.

So, what caused the blowout? The root cause is a failure to resolve a poor primary cement job. BP had knowledge that the primary cement job had failed; their continued operation was unsafe. Everything else BP decided to do from that point just exacerbated the situation. All because it would cost big bucks to work safely. My contacts on the Horizon told me that they brought all of this up to the “Company Man” on the Horizon. More than once.

The Minerals Management Service is a large collection of retired oilfield big dogs that oversee operations of their ex-employers. Payola is much cheaper that delays in operations. Hence, the façade of oversight. This oil well drilling can be a remarkably complex endeavor and if you do not have many years of hands on experience you are worthless as an MMS Inspector because you do not know what you’re doing.

June 16 2010 at 12:45 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
joe

At the time that the Oval Office speech is on the tube my wife and I will head out to the shore of Lake Pontchatrain where the local officials have been able to keep the oil out without any help from the federal government. This proves that the modest actions of the little people are more effective than the constant speeches by the President.

June 15 2010 at 7:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
THE ENCHANTED 1

If I remember right he sent a lawyer down to fix the Gulf oil leak. I guess Eric Holder has had some oil leak training as attorney general. I with no law degree most others with common sense would have sent engineers with oil rigs expierence .Blame never fixed anything . Get the right people down there to fix the leak, worry about the law suits later

June 15 2010 at 7:59 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
jmills9334

I have just read this, the second article on AOL today that addressed the fact that the President is speaking tonight from the Oval Office......and neither one....or any ....advised me of the TIME the President will be speaking...but both touched on issues he will be speaking of....
Not good reporting as far as I am concerned!

June 15 2010 at 7:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
alfredschrader

That oil stuff is just plain nasty goo. Maybe we should look for something better to make our cars drive....Al-

June 15 2010 at 7:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
alfredschrader

Simply put dull blades in the hydraulic sheer & crimp the pipe shut...That's it....Alfred-

June 15 2010 at 6:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
croone22

Tonight, President Obama will do exactly what any good prosecutor would do,convince the jury that the quilty will pay. And, possibly, we might hear, more than a little late by any measure,some proposals on what he is going to do to solve the oil-slick contamination of a precious coastline that supports an ecosystem that may be on its way to extinction. This tragedy in the Gulf is about to become a catastrope of unmeasurable proportions. And the president has not handled it well.
Too many photo ops and trivial pursuits instead of specific positive actions to gather the best technical minds in the country. Practicing professional Engineers and hands-on research scientists who deal with problem solving and invention everyday. There are thousands of very competent and inventive engineers and scientists in this country who could and have made suggestions and specified the equipment and process necessary to do the job. And prevent the sludge and oil from hitting the coastline while a method to cap the well is found. But,seemingly, these people have no platform or forum from which to speak. These people,like myself,are practicing engineers and researches who have practiced science and engineering and know what equipment and how much is needed to do the Job. I have emailed both BP and Gov. Bobby Jindal with specific information and data,including my credentials, and I have received acknowledgement from BP and the Gov. that my suggestions and specifications are being reviewed. The problem with President Obama's approach to this whole catastrophe,is that it is political in nature when it is technical expertise that is needed. He may find some great theorists in our colleges and universities but these are not the front-line people he really needs to guide him. And ,sadly,he does not know where to seek advice, and his administration and the media are not much help. Too many experts in rhetorical ideology who are obviously very short in math and science. One thing is for sure:we are reaching the point of no return very quickly. And if practical technology is not put in place very soon,the disaster we are now witnessing,will be an irreversible catastrophe. This is not a time for law suits and rhetoric of condemnation,it is a time for action. President Obama has already allowed too much time to elapse in trivial political pursuits. Hopefully,more practical minds will prevail and save the good people of the Gulf coast who deserve a lot better than they are getting. God help them!

June 15 2010 at 6:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Kenneth

Tonight live from the oval office Captain Teleprompter!

June 15 2010 at 5:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
henry841

approval rating is 54 per cent another paid republican blogger..
42 per cent, approve of the gulf spil handling
9/11 bush pushed through his agenda and the patriot act.
and supreme court nominees
henry841

June 15 2010 at 5:25 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
jnburke7627

Why don't we all get behind President Obama. Are we so blind as not to see he's doing everything any President could do in this unique situation. Get real America and support your President.

June 15 2010 at 5:20 PM Report abuse -7 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to jnburke7627's comment
vivralafrance

EXCELLENT POST !
GOD BLESS PRESIDENT OBAMA !

June 15 2010 at 5:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Kenneth

What has he done for the people to earn support and respect?

June 15 2010 at 5:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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