Obama, awash in answers on oil

President Obama says that the government is in charge of the response to the Gulf oil spill, not the oil company BP. Obama defended his administration's response to the oil spill at a White House press conference Thursday.
By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 28, 2010; 10:26 AM

President Obama answered the questions Thursday. And answered them, and answered them, and answered them.

He probably should have stopped somewhere before announcing that Malia had asked him in the bathroom whether he had plugged the hole yet. That was the first clip used on two of the three network newscasts, and it wound up on the cover of the New York Post.

Obama, to his credit, acknowledged some shortcomings in his "Message: I'm In Charge" appearance. He said the government shouldn't have taken BP's word for the magnitude of the leak early on. But by going on at such exhaustive length about the administration's response to the oil spill, the professorial president began to sound defensive, as if he doth protest too much.

And while he was obviously trying to sidestep the question, he sounded, shall we say, out of the loop in claiming not to know whether his director of the Minerals Management Service, Elizabeth Birnbaum, had resigned or been fired that morning. What is the point of forcing out the head of the agency if you can't claim political credit for it? Couldn't anyone send a message to his fabled BlackBerry?

It was the president's first full-scale, East Room news conference in 10 months, and it went more than an hour. Perhaps if he had done this earlier in the crisis and made a second trip to the Gulf, the optics would have been better and he wouldn't have James Carville denouncing him on national television.

The skeptical tone of most of the questions suggests how murky the climate has become for Obama.

Jennifer Loven, AP: "Yet how do you explain that we are more than five weeks into this crisis and that BP is not always doing as you're asking?"

Jake Tapper, ABC: "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?"

Chuck Todd, NBC: "Can you respond to all the Katrina comparisons that people are making about this with yourself?"

Chip Reid, CBS: "Is it fair to blame the Bush administration? Don't you deserve some of that?"

On that point, the man who has run the government for a year and a half said: "There's no evidence that some of the corrupt practices that had taken place earlier took place under the current administration's watch. But a culture in which oil companies were able to get what they wanted without sufficient oversight and regulation, that was a real problem."

Presidents can't perform miracles. But by fostering the impression that it had delegated the mess to the corporation that caused the problem, the White House really botched the communications strategy.

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