Friday, May 28, 2010

Transcript: President Obama News Conference (5-27-10)

Complete Transcript. Excerpt below:

Q You say that everything that could be done is being done. But there are those in the region and those industry experts who say that's not true. Governor Jindal obviously had this proposal for a barrier. They say that if that had been approved when they first asked for it, they would have 10 miles up already. There are fishermen down there who want to work, who want to help, haven't been trained, haven't been told to go do so. There are industry experts who say that they're surprised that tankers haven't been sent out there to vacuum, as was done in '93 outside Saudi Arabia. And then, of course, there's the fact that there are 17 countries that have offered to help, and the -- it's only been accepted from two countries, Norway and Mexico.

How can you say that everything that can be done is being done, with all these experts and all these officials saying that's not true?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, let me distinguish between -- if the question is, Jake, are we doing everything perfectly out there, then the answer is, absolutely not.

We can always do better. If the question is, are we, each time there is an idea, evaluating it and making a decision is this the best option that we have right now based on how quickly we can stop this leak and how much damage can we mitigate, then the answer is yes.

So let's take the example of Governor Jindal's barrier islands idea. When I met with him when I was down there two weeks ago, I said I will make sure that our team immediately reviews this idea, that the Army Corps of Engineers is looking at the feasibility of it; and if they think -- if they tell me that this is the best approach to dealing with this problem, then we're going to move quickly to execute. If they have a disagreement with Governor Jindal's experts as to whether this would be effective or not, whether it was going to be cost-effective given the other things that needed to be done, then we'll sit down and try to figure that out.

And that essentially is what happened, which is why today you saw an announcement where, from the Army Corps' perspective, there were some areas where this might work, but there are some areas where it would be counterproductive and not a good use of resources.

So the point is, on each of these points that you just mentioned, that the job of our response team is to say, okay, if 17 countries have offered equipment and help, let's evaluate what they've offered, how fast can it get here, is it actually going to be redundant or will it actually add to the overall effort -- because in some cases more may not actually be better; and decisions have been made, based on the best information available, that says here's what we need right now; it may be that a week from now or two weeks from now or a month from now, the offers from some of those countries might be more effectively utilized.

Now, it's going to be entirely possible in a operation this large that mistakes are made, judgments prove to be wrong; that people say in retrospect, you know, if we could have done that or we did that, this might have turned out differently -- although in a lot of cases, it may be speculation.

But the point that I was addressing from Jennifer was, does this administration maintain a constant sense of urgency about this? And are we examining every recommendation, and every idea is out there, and making our best judgment as to whether these are the right steps to take, based on the best experts that we know of?

And on that answer, the answer is yes. Or on that question, the answer is yes.

Chuck Todd.

Q I just want to follow up on the question, as it has to do with the relationship between the government and BP. It seems that you've made the case on the technical issues.

But onshore, Admiral Allen admitted the other day in a White House briefing that they needed to be pushed harder. Senator Mary Landrieu this morning said, it's not clear who's in charge, that the government should be in charge.

Why not ask BP to simply step aside on the onshore stuff, make it an entirely government thing? Obviously BP pays for it. But why not ask them to just completely step aside on that front?

And then also can you respond to all the comparisons that people are making about this with yourself?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, the -- I'll take your second question first.

I'll leave it to you guys to make those comparisons and make -- and make -- and make judgments on it, because -- because what I'm spending my time thinking about is, how do we solve the problem?

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.

In terms of shoreline protection, the way this thing has been set up, under the oil spill act of 1990 -- Oil Pollution Act -- is that BP has contracts with a whole bunch of contractors on file, in the event that there's an oil spill. And as soon as the Deep Horizon (sic) well went down, then their job is to activate those and start paying them. So a big chunk of the 20,000 who are already down there are being paid by BP.

The Coast Guard's job is to approve and authorize whatever BP is doing. Now, what Admiral Allen said today, and the reason he's down there today, is that if BP's contractors are not moving as nimbly, as effectively, as they need to be, then it is already the power of the federal government to redirect those resources; I guess the point being that the Coast Guard and our military are potentially already in charge, as long as we've got good information and we are making the right decisions. And if there are mistakes that are being made right now, we've got the power to correct those decisions.

We don't have to necessarily reconfigure the setup down there. What we do have to make sure of is, is that on each and every one of the decisions that are being made about what beaches to protect, what's going to happen with these marshes, if we build a barrier island how's this going to have an impact on the ecology of the area over the long term -- in each of those decisions, we've got to get it right.

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