President Obama met at the White House today with families of 10 of the 11 victims of the April 20 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion.
Families were seated at tables in the Red Room and the State Dining Room, and after making very brief remarks, the president went from table to table, meeting with each individual family for a conversation.
He met with “each family separately which I thought was the nicest way to do it and listened for as long as we had anything to tell him,” said Keith Jones, the father of Gordon Jones, who was killed in the explosion.
President Obama played with Maxwell Gordon Jones, Gordon Jones’ three-week-old child, born a couple weeks after the explosion.
“It’s been a couple years since I had one this little,” the president said.
A White House official said there were hugs and tears.
Keith Jones said President Obama told everyone that “he was very supportive, that we would not be forgotten either this month or in the months and years to come. That he wanted to make certain that we were treated fairly.”
He added that he and his other son Chris “have been working very hard to amend the death on the high seas tax, which is inherently unfair. He promised to take a very close look at it. He didn’t promise to sign anything we wanted to send over to him, because he’s way too smart for that but he did promise to take a good look at it and we are very confident being the kind of man the president is that once it passes both houses, I think he’ll sign it into law.”
The president was joined by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, White House environmental adviser Carol Browner, White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, and US Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen.
The Obama family dog, Bo, also joined the families.
“There was one particularly precocious toddler who was quite happy to meet him,” a White House official said.
The President expressed his condolences and told the families “that he, the First Lady and the entire administration are behind them and will be there long after the cameras are gone as they go through their unimaginable grief,” a White House statement said. “He also said that while offshore drilling is a part of our nation’s overall energy strategy, he simply could not go forward with new deepwater drilling until we have the proper safety measures in place to ensure that a tragedy like this never happens again.”
Asked about the moratorium, Jones said, “Should there be a moratorium until there’s a guarantee that everything’s safe on oil rigs? No because then we’ll never drill for water, let alone oil. Every activity carries some risk. Should it be safer than this one was? Oh yes. Absolutely. And I do agree that there ought to be a moratorium until the president gives, has given some assurance that his kind of accident doesn’t happen again.”
He added, “decisions were made in order to cut corners to save money figuring it just wouldn’t happen this time. And that’s what has to come to a stop.”
“He stayed until there weren’t any more questions for him, or no one had anything else to say,” Jones said. “The president’s a mighty busy man. And I think we were all pleased that he took whatever time it took.”
After the 55-minute-long meeting, President Obama phoned family members of the 11th victim, who were unable to attend.
-Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller