Oil spill continues to demand President Obama's time

By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 7, 2010; 6:34 AM

The oil agenda

If there was any doubt whether the White House intends to flood the oil response zone, Monday's West Wing schedule should put it to rest.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs's briefing, which normally comes in the afternoon, takes place at 10 a.m., and will be conducted by Adm. Thad Allen, the national incident commander in charge of the response to the Gulf of Mexico disaster.

The briefing is happening early to make way for a Facebook video chat with energy czar Carol Browner, who has become one of the go-to oil spill people at the White House in the past week.

President Obama also plans to hold a full meeting of his Cabinet -- not a common event during his first year and a half in office -- to discuss what the administration is doing to stop the leak and to clean up the coastlines of several states.

Over the weekend, even as BP appeared to have some success diverting a bit of the oil from the broken undersea gusher, it became clear that the crisis above water will be just as difficult to deal with.

More images of oil-covered animals began emerging, and there were increasing complaints about the lack of cleanup effort at beaches . One local official wondered aloud why Obama didn't order workers from other oil companies to help BP clean up the spill.

But at the same time, it seems clear that Obama will have a delicate balance ahead of him: How to increase the restrictions and safety rules on oil drilling while recognizing that such activity is critical for the economies of the country and of the gulf region.

In fact, as Obama toured the Gulf Friday, many of the complaints from local shop owners and fishermen were about the economic impact of the disaster. The jobs are gone, they said, and so are the customers.

Asked at a briefing last week whether everything is on the table for the president's oil spill commission, Gibbs said yes. But asked whether that included the possibility of a total ban on offshore oil drilling, he hemmed and hawed.

"Well, look, I assume they will look at that, and I think the president would want to be assured -- as he certainly said in meetings here -- that at the very least, you have to have a plan, a credible plan for responding to what potentially could happen to ensure that you can stop something that you start," Gibbs said.

Once the leak is finally plugged, perhaps by the end of the summer, the economic effects of the oil spill, both locally and worldwide, will continue to be an issue for Obama.

What a way to finish high school

The lucky seniors at Kalamazoo Central High School will be able to brag about their commencement speaker for years to come.

Although Obama and his predecessors often speak at college commencements, it is rare that the commander in chief headlines a high school graduation.

But that's exactly what Obama will do on Monday night in Kalamazoo, Mich., where the Class of 2010 won the right to have the president speak at its commencement ceremony.

The school won the Race to the Top graduation challenge. More than 1,000 schools were nominated, and 170,000 people voted on the finalists online.

An inconvenient meeting

The meeting between Obama and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was supposed to come after a kiss-and-make-up session with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu last week.

As such, the Abbas gathering would have been an effort to show balance, and to push forward with the "proximity talks" that U.S. officials hope can lead to broader peace negotiations between the two parties.

But alas, a recent Israeli assault on a Gaza aid flotilla that killed nine people, including an American citizen, canceled the Netanyahu meeting and has sparked international condemnation that will make any progress toward peace difficult in the near term.

The Abbas meeting, which is scheduled for Wednesday, is likely to be dominated by a discussion about Israel's actions -- a discussion that probably will put Obama in a difficult position.

Some unexpected free time

So what do you do when the trip you thought was going to take up all your time is suddenly off the schedule?

The week-ahead guidance from the White House shows almost nothing on the president's agenda for Thursday and Friday, perhaps a result of the changes occurring now that he is not going to Indonesia and Australia.

That trip was supposed to begin on Sunday, taking the president away for a full week. Instead, as the White House announced late Thursday night, the trip will be delayed.

Have no fear, though. Obama's schedule will almost certainly fill up quickly. Sanctions against Iran could be finalized by the end of the week. The oil spill continues to demand his time. And the economic recovery is still slow -- a subject that will require more attention as the fall midterm elections approach.

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