President Obama is holding his first full White House press conference Thursday in a long time, almost a year in fact. Obama’s focus will be the oil spill in the gulf — he’s announcing a moratorium on new offshore drilling — but he’s certain to face questions on Joe Sestak’s allegations of bribery, as well as the midterm elections, Iran, the Middle East peace process, North Korea, and of course the economy.
I’m in the White House East Room and will be live-blogging the whole thing. if I get anything wrong, don’t bother e-mailing. I’m sure the White House will have beat you to it.
1:10 p.m. – The first 15 to 20 minutes of the press conference were taken up with the oil spill. Obama spoke for several minutes about the government response, rejecting critics who say that the federal government has not done enough to compel BP to act to do everything in its power to stop the leak.
“Make no mistake: BP is operating at our direction,” Obama said.
Obama also laid out the details of the government’s response and of the moratorium on drilling: the government will suspend drilling in two locations in alaska, cancel pending lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Virginia, suspend deep water well permits for 6 months, and suspend 33 deep water wells currently being drilled.
Obama also hit the oil industry’s “cozy and sometimes corrupt” relationship with regulators.
The first question went to the AP’s Jen Loven, who asked about the response as well. Her question prompted Obama to surmise that while BP and private industry have far superior technology to respond to such a spill, maybe the federal government should have those powers. Obama mentioned a consortium of private companies paying into a fund to create a government capability to respond.
ABC’s Jake Tapper got the second question.
“How can you say that everything that can be done is being done with all these officials and all these experts saying that’s not true?” Tapper asked.
Obama said that while not every outcome of every decision had worked, the government has done all it can.
NBC’s Chuck Todd asked also about the spill, and asked why BP hasn’t been asked to step aside on on shore efforts and also asked the president to respond to those who say this spill is turning into Obama’s Katrina.
“I’ll leave it to you guys to make those comparisons, because what I’m spending my time thinking about is how to solve the problem,” Obama said. “I’m confident that people are going to look back and say that this administration was on top of what was an unprecedented crisis.”
1:18 p.m. – Obama is hammering the point that he and the federal government are in charge, not BP. The problem is not, Obama said, that BP “is running around doing whatever it wants and nobody is minding the store.”
“Our teams are authorized to direct BP,” Obama said.
McClatchy’s Steve Thomma got the fourth question. He asked why, if Obama saw the worst case scenario from the beginning, the government and BP are still having to rush resources to the Gulf.
Obama said the government has acted with “urgency” but that prior to the accident there was a lack of anticipating what the worst possible scenario could be.
1:27 p.m. – Chip Reid of CBS got the fifth question. He asked about the head of the regulatory agency in charge of the spill and whether she was fired or resigned. He also asked whether it is fair to blame the Bush administration for
Obama said that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar “came in and started cleaning house, but the culture had not changed at MMS.”
Obama said he takes responsibility for that, admitting that there was not “sufficient urgency” in changing the culture.
“Some of it was restraint of the laws but we should have busted through those restraints,” Obama said.
As for MMS head Birnbaum, Obama said he found out about her resignation today. “So I don’t’ know the circumstances in which this occurred,” he said.
He added that he wants people who are “operating at the highest level and not making excuses when things break down.”
Bloomberg’s Juliana Goldman got to ask the sixth question, again about BP, questioning whether they have been forthcoming about the damage of the spill and their response.
Obama rejected the idea that BP is dragging its feet on the effort to plug the leak.
“They want his thing capped as badly as anybody does,” he said. “It is a legitimate concern to question whether BP’s interests in being fully forthcoming about the extent of the damage aligns with the interest of the public.”
Helen Thomas got the seventh
eighth question and asked the first non-oil spill related question, about why the U.S. is in Afghanistan. Obama sounded resigned as he began his answer and went through the original reasons for going to Afghanistan.
“They absolutely are a threat to us,” Obama said when pushed by Thomas about whether Al Qaeda in fact threatens America.
Jackie Calmes of the New York Times asked the eighth question about Obama’s call for expanded offshore drilling a few months ago and whether he regretted it.
“I continue to believe what I said at that time,” Obama said, which is that domestic off shore drilling “has to be part of an overall energy strategy” but is “insufficient” on its own.
“Where I was wrong was in my belief that the oil companies had their act together when it came to worst case scenarios,” he said.
The president said the government should be able in the future to shut something like this down “in 2 or 3 or 4 days.”
Calmes followed up about whether Obama regrets that his team didn’t do the reforms at MMS and how the president did not know about Birnbaum’s departure, calling it a “resignation slash firing.”
“You’re assuming it was a firing,” Obama said.
“If it was a resignation,” he said, she would have submitted her resignation to Salazar.
“So you’ll allow that it was a firing?” Calmes said.
“Come on Jackie I don’t know,” Obama said.
Obama then talked about the fact that oil companies have to go a mile underwater and then drill three miles below that as evidence that resources are becoming more scarce and drilling is becoming more expensive and more risky.
“That’s part of the reason you never heard me say drill baby drill. Because we can’t drill our way out of the problem,” Obama said, in a subtle slap at RNC Chairman Michael Steele, who coined the term at the 2008 Republican Convention in St. Paul.
The ninth question went to a reporter I am not familiar with, who asked about border security, the Arizona law and threats by other states and businesses to boycott Arizona.
Obama repeated that the Arizona law is “the wrong approach.”
“I’m the president of the United States. I don’t endorse boycotts or not endorse boycotts,” he said, and repeated that the Justice Department is examining the Arizona law for potential challenges.
He then talked about the need for a comprehensive fix in Congress.
Nine questions in and no questions about Joe Sestak so far.
1:51 p.m. – Major Garrett of Fox News got the 10th and final question. He asked about the phrase “boot on the neck,” which Salazar and White House press secretary Robert Gibbs have used in referring to how the Obama administration is dealing with BP.
Garrett then asked about Sestak.
“There will be an official response shortly on the Sestak issue, which I hope will answer your questions,” Obama said.
“From you sir?” Garrett asked.
“You will get it from my administration,” Obama said.
Garrett asked if the president could assure the public that nothing improper was done.
“I can assure the public that nothing improper took place, but as I said, there will be a response shortly on that issue,” Obama said.
As for the “boot” phrase, Obama said that Salazar has been “frusrated, angry and occasionally emotional about this issue.”
“I would say that we don’t need to use language like that. What we need is action to assure that BP is held accountable,” Obama said.
Obama closed with a story about his daughter Malia asking him this morning while he shaved: “Did you plug the hole yet Daddy?”
“When we are fouling the earth like this it has concrete implications not only for this generation but for future generations,” Obama said. “I grew up in Hawaii where the ocean is sacred.”
Obama once again reaffirmed that he was in charge and responsible for the leak, and walked out. One reporter asked if Obama would take one question on North Korea, but Obama ignored it.
Here is the transcript of the press conference: