President Obama will deliver his first nationally televised address from the Oval Office tonight to try to convince the American people that the administration is on top of the growing economic and environmental crisis in the Gulf of Mexico, 57 days after millions of gallons of oil first began spilling from a damaged BP well.
Obama, who is on his fourth trip to the region, visits Pensacola, Fla., today where he will survey oil containment and cleanup efforts with Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen. He traveled through Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama yesterday.
"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," Obama said at a Coast Guard station in Gulfport, Miss., yesterday. He meets with BP executives tomorrow when he will tell them they need to make the Gulf Coast whole.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said on "Good Morning America" that the administration believes BP's oil containment efforts will collect more than 90 percent of oil spewing from the underwater leak by the end of June and that cleanup efforts will "restore the gulf not to where it was before this accident happened but to restore this Gulf to where it was years ago."
But many local residents along the Gulf coast and 69 percent of all Americans, according to a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, remain unconvinced the government has acted aggressively or quickly enough. And a majority believe that some beaches will never recover and more say some species of fish and birds will never return to normal levels, according to the latest USA Today/Gallup poll.
"I'd like to see the government get up off their keisters and do more than fly back and forth to Washington and play basketball or whatever it is they do," said Jerome Atkins of Dauphin Island, Ala.
Tonight the president will try to reassure Atkins and all Americans that the gulf region will rebound just as it did after Hurricane Katrina, and that BP will pay for it.
"The president has the legal authority to direct BP to set aside money and to set up an independent claims process so that those who have been harmed economically as a result of this disaster have their claims processed quickly, efficiently and transparently," Gibbs said. "The president has the legal authority to compel them to do so and if they don't, he will."
"I promise you this, that things are going to return to normal," Obama told residents in Theodore, Ala., yesterday. "This region that's known a lot of hardship will bounce back, just like it's bounced back before."
Meanwhile, Congress is preparing to grill BP CEO Tony Hayward when he appears before a House committee on Capitol Hill on Thursday, releasing confidential internal BP emails that lawmakers say show the company "increased the danger of a catastrophic well failure" by cutting corners to save time and money.
Just days before BP's Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig exploded April 20, one BP drilling engineer wrote of a "nightmare well" another called it a "crazy well."