June 15, 2010 -- 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."
Obama Address to Stem Political Fallout from Spill
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."
During his gulf tour Monday, Obama promised residents the administration would do everything it can to strengthen offshore drilling regulations to prevent a similar disaster from ever happening again. He also pledged the full resources of the federal government to "make sure that communities get back on their feet," but cautioned that how long that will take remains unknown.
Obama's first address from the Oval Office demonstrates the gravity of the Gulf Coast crisis and the political perils the crisis poses for his presidency. More Americans disapprove of the federal response to the spill than disapproved of the government's response to Hurricane Katrina.
"I can take up the better part of your morning listing the crises that we've had to deal with," said Gibbs. "I don't think there's any doubt this is a tremendously important time. We're at an inflection point in this oil spill. The president understands the challenges and he'll lay out a direct and clear plan to meet them."
White House officials say the president will discuss details of the ongoing oil containment efforts, a plan to reorganize the Minerals and Management Services, which regulate oil companies drilling in the gulf, and an effort to push BP to create an escrow fund for those seeking damages from the company to be administered by an independent "master."
The president will also use the Oval Office address to show how the ongoing environmental catastrophe exemplifies the nation's need to pursue a clean energy future.
Obama is expected to discuss BP's substantial bill from the government, tallied in accordance with the 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.
"The president will discuss tonight what type of regulatory framework do we have going forward to ensure this type of accident never happens again," Gibbs said. "Failsafe has to mean that going forward."
Spill Continues as Cleanup Effort Broadens
"He's going to have a lot of eyes glued to the television set," Democratic strategist and "Good Morning America" consultant James Carville said of the president's address this evening. "I think he can hit this political reset button... I think he can eliminate the [political] damage."
"It's a complex problem, but he's got to show that he's on top of this thing, that there's a strategy in place and that there's a way to deal with this," Carville added.
Meanwhile, the leak continues despite a partial containment cap BP has placed on the well.
BP says it is planning to increase containment capacity, from siphoning 15,000 to 28,000 barrels per day of oil to as much as 50,000 barrels a day by the end of the month.
"What we have are physics problems," said Gibbs. "The top cap can only take so much, but they're adding additional lines…to bring more and more of that oil to the surface and out of the Gulf."
Twenty-three more miles of the Gulf Coast were closed for fishing yesterday as tar balls washed ashore and threatened sea life.
ABC News' George Stephanopoulos and Sunlen Miller contributed to this report.