WASHINGTON--President Obama said on Tuesday he is looking for some "ass to kick" in the ongoing BP oil spill catastrophe. Obama's reply to critics to how he is handling the crisis: "I don't always have time to perform for the benefit of the cable shows."
In an NBC "Today Show" interview with host Matt Lauer, Obama defended his administration--and his personal--response to the inability to cap the deepwater gusher. Obama does not like being portrayed as emotionally detached from the situation.
Said Obama, "And I understand. And here's what -- I'm going to push back hard on this, because I think that this is just an idea that got in folks' heads and the media has run with it. I was down there a month ago, before most of these talking heads were even paying attention to the Gulf. A month ago I was meeting with fishermen down there standing in the rain talking about what a potential crisis this could be.
"And I don't sit around just talking to experts because this is a college seminar. We talk to these folks because they potentially have the best answers so I know whose ass to kick, right?
"So, you know, this is not theater. Most of the decisions that I make on a day-to-day basis, I make because I have gathered the best information possible in very difficult situations, and my job is to figure out how can I move the federal government, the private sector, all the various players who are involved, to perform some very, very difficult tasks?
"And I don't always have time to perform for the benefit of the cable shows. What I do have is dedication and commitment to make sure that the people who are actually being affected by this are going to get the best possible service from me. And as long as I'm president, that's the approach that I'm going to take to this job."
TRANSCRIPT COURTESY OF FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE...
PART I OF AN NBC "TODAY" INTERVIEW WITH PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA
SUBJECT: EFFORTS TO RESOLVE THE GULF OIL-SPILL CRISIS INTERVIEWER: MATT LAUER
7:02 A.M. EDT, TUESDAY, JUNE 8, 2010
MR. LAUER: We begin on a Tuesday morning with the disaster in the Gulf, now in its 50th day, and our exclusive interview with President Obama. We sat down on Monday before his commencement speech at a high school in Kalamazoo, Michigan. And I began by asking the president if the oil spill in the Gulf has made this the toughest point in his presidency to date.
(Begin videotaped segment.)
PRESIDENT OBAMA: This is tough, no doubt about it, because, you know, when you watch television or you go down to the Gulf and you see birds covered in oil and you talk to fishermen who are on the verge of tears -- big, tough guys, but, you know, their livelihoods are being smothered by this oil that's coming into the estuaries and marshes -- it gets you frustrated.
And so this is a difficult time for the country. But it has not reduced my confidence that our trajectory is right. We've just got to keep on moving. We've got to keep on pushing. It's going to be tough, but we're going to get through it.
MR. LAUER: Do you feel at this stage, 50 days or so into this, that your administration has been damaged by this oil spill?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: No. First of all, I'm not concerned about my politics right now. What I'm concerned about is what's happening down in the Gulf. And I guarantee you, the folks in the Gulf have been damaged by this oil spill. And livelihoods are at stake.
This is the largest federal response to an environmental disaster in history. From day one, we understood that this was going to be a major disaster. We have put unprecedented resources to deal with it.
MR. LAUER: Then why do you think there's so much frustration aimed not only at BP right now but at your administration? There are people who are starting to wonder out loud if the oil spill in the Gulf could be -- could do to you what Katrina did to President Bush or even what the Iran hostage situation did to President Carter.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: You know, I have to tell you, some of this is just the nature of the 24-hour news cycle. You've got a camera showing oil spilling out in the Gulf, and people are understandably frustrated and they're upset, and they have every right to be.
But here's what I can say, that we have responded with unprecedented resources. And when you look at what most of the critics say, Matt, and you ask them, "Well, specifically what is it that the administration could or should have done differently that would have an impact on whether or not oil was hitting the shore?" you're met with silence.
And the fact of the matter is there has not been an idea that is mentioned out there by any of the critics that we haven't evaluated. And if it was going to work, we would have done it. But it happened under my watch that you still had these oil rigs out there that we thought could deal with this kind of situation and they haven't been able to deal with it.
MR. LAUER: A day or so after that oil rig sank --
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Right.
MR. LAUER: -- I spoke to Rear Admiral Mary Landry of the Coast Guard --
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Yeah.
MR. LAUER: -- who was speaking on behalf of the administration. And I asked her --
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Right.
MR. LAUER: -- I said, "We're seeing an oil slick in the water. Where's that coming from?" And she said, "There is no evidence that that's coming from this wellhead. That's residual oil coming from the rig itself."
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Right.
MR. LAUER: A day later, she echoed those same comments.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Right.
MR. LAUER: Was the administration misled, in your opinion? Were you relying too much on information from BP? And from the start, did BP try to downplay the situation?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, here's what I think happened. Initially the thinking was that, in fact, the rig had sunk but the blowout preventers had shut down the well, because that's what they were supposed to do. So the anticipation was maybe a thousand barrels might be leaking a day, but this is not going to be a monumental spill.
As soon as people understood that the blowout preventers weren't working, that the valves that were supposed to shut down in the event of a blowout like this had not functioned properly, then I think people understood right then that this was going to be a significant emergency.
In terms of our relationship with BP, our general attitude has been that they have an incentive to shut this thing down because it's going to cost them money, and I'm going to stay on them, if it's the last thing I do in this administration, to make sure they're paying off those fishermen and --
MR. LAUER: Have you spoken directly to Tony Hayward, the CEO of BP?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I have not spoken to him directly, and here's the reason, because my experience is when you talk to a guy like a BP CEO, he's going to say all the right things to me. I'm not interested in words. I'm interested in actions.
MR. LAUER: I --
PRESIDENT OBAMA: And we are communicating to him every single day exactly what we expect of him and what we expect of that administration.
MR. LAUER: In all due respect, that feels strange to me; that here we've got the CEO of a company that's responsible for the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, and I think -- I'm just curious why you didn't pick up -- you wouldn't pick up the phone and in some ways just give him a piece of your mind.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, the -- look, this has sort of been -- this has been the main critique of the administration is giving a piece of my mind to these guys. Look, I would love to vent. I would love to just shout and holler, because I'm thinking about this day in and day out. But my main job is to solve the problem.
MR. LAUER: To solve the problem, you have to have a reliable partner. Let me read you some of the things that Mr. Hayward has said over the course of this disaster. He said, "The Gulf of Mexico is a big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we're putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume. The environmental impact of this disaster is likely to be very, very modest." And then he said, "There's no one who wants this to end more than I do. I'd like my life back."
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Yeah. Well, the -- I think the --
MR. LAUER: The family members of those 11 people who died on the rig and the people whose lives are going to be changed for years want their lives back too. He doesn't work for you. But if he did, would you want him out?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: He wouldn't be working for me after any of those statements. First of all, we're going to have to find out why this thing went in the first place. And the fact of the matter is that there's going to be a thorough review. And I don't want to prejudge it, but the initial reports indicate that there may be situations in which not only human error was involved, but you also saw some corner cutting in terms of safety, and that BP is a multibillion-dollar corporation. It's talking about paying $10.5 billion in dividends just for this quarter.
MR. LAUER: Right.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: We are going to have to make sure that not only do they shut down the cap, we are not only going to have to make sure that any deepwater drilling process that's out there is, in fact, fail-safe and oil companies know what they're doing, but we also have to make sure that every single person who's been affected by this is properly compensated and made whole. When I went down there last Friday --
MR. LAUER: Can BP do that? Can they do all that?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Absolutely. They can afford it. If I start seeing BP nickel and diming folks down there, then they are going to have to answer to us.
MR. LAUER: We've heard time and time again throughout this crisis, as BP has tried and failed with all their fixes, that this technology is untested at this depth.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Yeah.
MR. LAUER: And it just raises a question. If this is where we're drilling for oil, at 4,000 and 5,000 feet under the surface of the ocean, where's the oversight in that? Why are they allowed to drill there if the worst-case-scenario methods to prevent disaster are untested at that depth? It doesn't help to test them at 100 feet.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: When it comes to how we were operating in overseeing and taking the word of the oil industry generally, not just BP in terms of the fail-safe nature of what they could do, I think we have to completely review that. And that's why I've assigned this bipartisan commission. I want them to report back to me, because you obviously cannot take the word of oil companies when they say they've got a bunch of redundancy and backup plans, when something like this happens and it turns out they have no idea what they're doing.
MR. LAUER: So even as the oil is spewing into the Gulf, would you consider halting all drilling below a certain depth right now?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, keep in mind what's happening. First of all, there is -- we've already instituted a moratorium --
MR. LAUER: On new drilling.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: -- on new drilling. The production wells that are already pumping oil, those don't seem to be the problem. The problem has to do with actually drilling and starting a new well. So we've put a moratorium on new wells. Shallow wells aren't a problem because the risers essentially come up above the water. So if something like this happened in a shallow-water well, then folks would just get up on the platform and they would start fixing it and it would be shut down fairly quickly.
What we don't have right now is an assurance that in these incredible depths, a mile down, and then they're drilling another three miles down to get to oil --
MR. LAUER: Right.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: -- that we can actually handle a crisis like this.
MR. LAUER: Have you allowed yourself to even imagine what the Gulf region will look like if oil continues to spew until August, what it will smell like, what the economic situation will be like down there?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I have. And here's what I'll say. This is going to be a mess. It already is. But I've been down there, and the people are resilient, and these ecosystems are more resilient than I think we anticipate right now, if we act swiftly, if we act seriously.
There are going to be marshes, for example, where the oil goes in and the sea life that's there is decimated for a season, maybe two. But potentially we can preserve those estuaries and those marshes so that three years from now things have come back; things have bounced back.
MR. LAUER: Critics are now talking about your style, which is the first time I've heard that in a long time. And they're saying here's a guy who likes to be known as cool and calm and collected, and this isn't the time for cool, calm and collected --
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Right.
MR. LAUER: -- that this is not the time to meet with experts and advisers. This is a time to spend more time in the Gulf and -- I never thought I'd say this to a president -- but kick some butt.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: (Chuckles.)
MR. LAUER: And I don't mean it to be funny.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: No. And I understand. And here's what -- I'm going to push back hard on this, because I think that this is just an idea that got in folks' heads and the media has run with it. I was down there a month ago, before most of these talking heads were even paying attention to the Gulf. A month ago I was meeting with fishermen down there standing in the rain talking about what a potential crisis this could be.
And I don't sit around just talking to experts because this is a college seminar. We talk to these folks because they potentially have the best answers so I know whose ass to kick, right?
So, you know, this is not theater. Most of the decisions that I make on a day-to-day basis, I make because I have gathered the best information possible in very difficult situations, and my job is to figure out how can I move the federal government, the private sector, all the various players who are involved, to perform some very, very difficult tasks?
And I don't always have time to perform for the benefit of the cable shows. What I do have is dedication and commitment to make sure that the people who are actually being affected by this are going to get the best possible service from me. And as long as I'm president, that's the approach that I'm going to take to this job.