In his most extensive remarks about the Gulf oil spill, President Obama pushed back today against critics who say his administration has been less than fully engaged in efforts to contain the damage and stressed that the federal government is in charge.
"Those who think that we were either slow on our response or lacked urgency don't know the facts," Obama told a news conference at the White House. "This has been our highest priority since this crisis occurred."
Obama said that the oil spill was the first and last thing he thinks about every day and dismissed an opportunity to respond to comparisons to the Bush administration's handling of Hurricane Katrina.
"I'll leave it to you guys to make those comparisons and make judgments on it, because what I'm spending my time thinking about is, 'How do we solve the problem?'" he said. "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."
Twice calling the spill "unprecedented," Obama reiterated that BP is responsible for the "horrific disaster" and will be held fully accountable.
But after nearly an hour of engaging with reporters, Obama finally said bluntly that the buck stops with him.
"I take responsibility," he said. "It is my job to make sure that everything is done to shut this down."
Obama will travel to the Gulf region Friday, his second trip since the oil leak began.
Amid mounting criticism that his administration has done too little to fix the problem in the Gulf, Obama emphasized that BP is operating at the direction of the federal government.
"Every key decision and action they take must be approved by us in advance," he said. "I've designated [U.S. Coast Guard] Adm. Thad Allen, who has nearly four decades of experience responding to such disasters, as the national incident commander. And if he orders BP to do something to respond to this disaster, they are legally bound to do it."
Obama announced today that planned oil exploration in that region and off the Atlantic Coast will be cancelled and a six-month moratorium will be placed on new, deepwater drilling permits.
Obama said his administration is relying on every resource, idea, expert and technology to stop the leak but acknowledged the frustrations of Gulf Coast residents and officials.
"Every day I see this leak continue, I am angry and frustrated as well," he said. "And for as long as it takes, I intend to use the full force of the federal government to protect our fellow citizens and the place where they live. I can assure you of that."
Obama announced he was canceling the August offshore drilling lease sale in the western Gulf of Mexico and the lease sale off the coast of Virginia.
Planned exploration off the coast of Alaska in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas is also being delayed pending the review of the presidential commission looking into the BP spill.
A senior White House official said "the president's eyes have been opened" to the risks of offshore drilling. Officials point specifically to the inability of the U.S. Minerals Management Service to reliably regulate the industry, the inaccurate claims by the oil industry that companies are able to stop catastrophes such as these from happening and whether the industry can contain the damage.