Obama Vows Not to Forget Victims of Oil Rig Explosion

President says congressional leaders on board with an analysis of federal laws.

June 10, 2010, 1:10 PM

June 10, 2010 -- President Obama today called for an examination of federal laws to guarantee that people affected by the Gulf oil spill and any future calamities are better protected, as the spill continues to have a ripple effect on his agenda.

"It's going to be important that based on facts, based on experts, based on a thorough examination of what went wrong here and where things have gone right but also where things have gone wrong, that we update the laws to make sure that the people in the Gulf -- the fishermen, the hotel owners, families who are dependent for their livelihoods in the Gulf -- that they are all made whole and that we are in a much better position to respond to any such crisis in the future," the president said after a meeting with the bipartisan leadership from the House and Senate where the BP oil spill was at the top of the agenda.

Obama said the group agreed that such a review needs to occur, adding that existing laws "have not been adequate for a crisis of this magnitude."

Obama met for an hour in the Cabinet Room with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Minority Leader John Boehner and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.

The meeting with congressional leadership was the first in a series the president will have today at the White House centered on the Gulf oil spill and the broader issue of the nation's energy policies.

Obama met privately with most of the families of the 11 oil rig workers who were killed during the April 20 explosion.

The White House said that the president expressed his condolences and told the families that he, first lady Michelle Obama and his entire administration supported them and will do so long after the cameras are gone.

Obama also will meet with business leaders and energy experts, including Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, to talk about energy reform.

Obama again used the immediate crisis in the Gulf of Mexico to make the case for movement on a comprehensive energy plan.

Obama said last week that the time has come to "aggressively accelerate" the nation's transition to a clean-energy economy.

Obama Likely to Summon BP CEO

The president said today that while the obvious immediate task is containing the Gulf oil spill, there needs to be greater effort put into developing an energy policy "that meets the needs of the next generation and ensures that the United States is the leader when it comes to energy policy."

"We are not yet that leader, and that's what I want us to be," he said.

After the meeting, Republicans said they were uninterested in working with Democrats if they are "seizing on the oil spill" as a rationale for passing cap-and-trade legislation.

"We're perfectly happy to work with the administration on legislation that might be appropriate directly related to the spill in the Gulf," Senate minority leader McConnell, R-Ky., said. "What I believe most of my members, if not all of them, and a substantial number of Democrats in the United States Senate will not be interested in is seizing on the oil spill in the Gulf and using that as a rationale, if you will, for passing a national energy tax."

McConnell said it is "completely and totally" unrelated to the environmental catastrophe in the Gulf.

"I'm confident there will be bipartisan opposition to using the oil spill as a rationale or excuse for passing a national energy tax, which is completely and totally unrelated to an appropriate response to this environmental catastrophe," he said.

Despite the White House's insistence that Obama is fully engaged and containing the oil spill damage is his top priority, the president still has yet to speak directly to BP CEO Tony Hayward, the man at the center of the worst environmental disaster in the nation's history.

But when Hayward comes to Washington, D.C., next week, he will almost certainly be summoned to meet with Obama at the White House, sources said.

Though no final decision has been made, White House officials are planning to meet with Hayward and the president will also likely have a few words to say to him.

Hayward is scheduled to appear next Thursday at a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce oversight and investigations subcommittee.

Obama said earlier this week that his reason for not speaking directly to Hayward is that he doesn't want to simply hear platitudes.

"My experience is, when you talk to a guy like a BP CEO, he's going to say all the right things to me," the president said in an interview with NBC News. "I'm not interested in words. I'm interested in actions."

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs continued to be peppered with questions Wednesday about why that conversation has yet to occur. The spokesman seemed to indicate that Hayward was not the one making the sole decisions for BP, noting that anything the CEO does has to be approved by the company's board.

"We're in constant contact with many in the corporate structure of BP about how and what they must do," Gibbs said. "Whether it's the claims process, whether it's a directive that was issued today by [Coast Guard Adm.] Thad Allen, the national incident commander, in order to ensure that there is a redundancy that allows for, as the cap can take more oil, and as different things are added to the structure of the top cap, that vessels are in place in order to ... be able to do that."

Families of Rig Workers Demand Attention

Behind closed doors at the White House today, Obama will sit down with the families of 10 of the 11 oil rig workers who were killed during the April 20 explosion that caused the oil spill.

Obama sent a personal letter to each of the families extending the invitation to come to the White House and shared "his heartfelt sympathy on their tragic loss," the White House said.

"They were the very first victims of what is a very long and sad tragedy," Gibbs said.

Families of the victims expressed their frustration to ABC News that Obama has not focused enough attention on their families and their losses.

"He's just worried about birds and fish and the people who are not making their money," said Cindy Shelton, girlfriend of Adam Weise, who died in the explosion. "And I understand that that is their livelihood and they deserve to be taken care of. But what about us? He has not even addressed us or our families who have lost someone that they love."

The White House said that in addition to expressing his condolences to the families, the president would discuss with them the safety conditions on the rig.

"[Obama's] eager to discuss with them what their family was telling them about safety conditions and what type of changes can and must be made in the regulatory framework to ensure that deepwater drilling that goes forward is done in a way that is safe and not life threatening," Gibbs said Wednesday.

Shelton said that she heard disturbing stories from Weise about the safety conditions on the rig.

"He told me several times that there were lots of problems out there and he was not comfortable with the way things were going," she said.

After the meeting, the White House said Obama told the families that he could not allow new deepwater drilling projects until there are safety measures in place to prevent a future tragedy like the oil rig explosion. He reiterated that offshore drilling is a part of the nation's overall energy strategy.

Obama will head back to the Gulf Coast next week, his fourth trip to the region since the spill began.

This time, however, the president's focus will be on neighboring states that are now being affected by oil washing ashore on their beaches: Alabama, Mississippi and Florida. Obama's previous trips have been to Louisiana.

Obama to Reach Beyond Louisiana

"I think in each one of these ... he will see Coast Guard officials and response officials about the steps that are being taken to respond to, as you've heard Adm. Allen say, an oil that has ... broken up and gone in many directions and provides unique challenges to the environment in each of these places," Gibbs said.

As he has done in Louisiana, Obama will also meet with local officials and talk to residents affected economically by the spill.

ABC News' Jake Tapper and Claire Shipman contributed to this report.

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