UPDATE – 7:05 P.M. – The Obama administration, through National Incident Commander Admiral Thad Allen, has asked BP’s Chairman of the Board Carl-Henric Svanberg to meet at the White House with President Obama and top government officials next Wednesday, June 16.
The letter from Allen to Svanberg, sent out by the White House, asks that he come along with “any appropriate officials from BP.” Here is a link to the full letter.
In an apparent concession to public pressure, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs on Thursday indicated that President Obama will meet with top BP officials in the coming days.
Obama has taken heat this week after admitting Monday he has not spoken with BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward since the company’s drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico began spewing oil into the ocean on April 22.
The president said Monday in a TV interview that he was “not interested in words” with Hayward because he assumed the oil executive would “say all the right things.”
“I’m interested in actions,” Obama told “The Today Show’s” Matt Lauer.
But Gibbs said Thursday: “I wouldn’t rule out a meeting with relevant BP officials.”
Hayward will be in Washington on June 17 for congressional testimony and will likely be asked to meet with Obama at the White House then, according to ABC’s Jake Tapper.
Despite the concession, Gibbs continued to stick to a tortured argument that the BP board is the ultimate authority at BP, and not Hayward.
“The president would like to talk to, if he does, the relevant structure that governs the company. That’s not necessarily the CEO. That’s the chairman of the board, based on the corporate governance structure that BP has,” Gibbs said.
“The way their corporate board is structured, the chair of the board and the board make the relevant decisions,” Gibbs said again later in the briefing.
However, a BP spokesman contested the implication by Gibbs that Hayward was not the relevant person to talk to about the oil spill.
“Tony’s got the complete support of the board and will carry on handling the response to the incident,” said the spokesman, who asked that he not be identified.
The signal from Gibbs that Obama will likely meet with Hayward is the latest move by the administration to placate critics of the administration’s handling of the spill. Obama and some of his representatives have used increasingly strong language to describe the White House response, after coming under fire for showing insufficient anger about the situation – a complaint ridiculed by many.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said more than a month ago that the government would keep a “boot on the neck” of BP to ensure the company stopped the leak as soon as possible and cleaned up the environmental damage.
Obama later said in a May 28 press conference: “We don’t need to use language like that; what we need is actions that make sure that BP is being held accountable.”
In Monday’s interview, Obama said he was talking to experts on the oil spill so he would know “whose ass to kick” when holding people accountable.
The White House also issued a statement on May 29 stating that the leak was “enraging.” When asked if the president himself was enraged and what evidence he had seen of this, Gibbs said yes.
“I’ve seen rage from him, Chip. I have,” Gibbs told CBS News’ Chip Reid. “He has been in a whole bunch of different meetings — clenched jaw — even in the midst of these briefings, saying everything has to be done.”
Gibbs denied on Thursday that he, the president or any of his lieutenants were trying to make a political show of anger for public consumption.
“Our point is not to feign, through method acting, anger at what environmental and economic damage has been wrought by this disaster,” he said.