After a day and a half in the Gulf — visiting a Coast Guard station in Mississippi, a booming staging area in Alabama, and a naval base in Florida — President Obama will deliver his first Oval Office address Tuesday night at 8 p.m. ET.
That the president has chosen this moment to give his first address from the Oval Office indicates not only the severity of the environmental and economic disaster caused by the BP oil spill, but also the perils the crisis poses for his presidency. With almost seven in ten Americans rating the federal response to the spill as negative — a worse rating than that for the government's performance after Hurricane Katrina — the president's political capital and his agenda are at risk.
Tomorrow night, the president will address the following items, according to senior White House officials:
* the reorganization of the Minerals Management Service, the woefully underperforming federal regulator in charge of supervising offshore drilling;
* plans for containment of the environmental damage;
* when BP will be able to capture most of the oil gushing from the well;
* the escrow account the president wants BP executives to establish for those hurt economically by the spill;
* long-term recovery plans for the Gulf;
* how the spill underlines the need for the US to pursue a "clean energy future."
In addition, the president will discuss how BP will need to pay a great deal of funds to the government according to Natural Resource Damage Assessments, an official says. The president intends to make sure that money is spent to restore the Gulf to the healthy environmental standards it had pre-Hurricane Katrina.
Why isn't this address coming after the president's Wednesday meeting with BP executives?
"Because he's going to tell the nation what he intends to tell BP that they have to do," a senior White House official says.
And why now? Why is this week the "inflection point" of the crisis, as senior White House adviser David Axelrod has said?
"We know more now than we did," the official says, both in terms of how much oil is being released and in terms of "our capacity to contain the flow."
The official underlines that this spill is not an "event" like the Challenger disaster, but rather an "epidemic" that will continue for years, even after the hole is plugged.
– Jake Tapper