Obama: ‘I Am Fully Engaged’ in Oil Disaster

Posted May 27, 2010 at 2:59pm

President Barack Obama on Thursday assumed responsibility for the BP oil spill cleanup effort and called the incident a “wake-up call” for the Senate to get moving on climate change legislation.

In the face of mounting public frustration over BP’s inability to contain the spill that has been pouring into the Gulf of Mexico for more than a month, Obama said it is ultimately his job to make sure the problem is fixed.

“There shouldn’t be any confusion here: The federal government is fully engaged. And I’m fully engaged,” he said, adding that he understands the anger and frustration felt by Americans. “Every day I see this leak continue, I am angry and frustrated as well.”

The president pointed to a newly completed 30-day safety and environmental review of the disaster and vowed to put more stringent standards in place for offshore energy companies, per the report’s recommendations.

Additionally, he listed off four immediate actions that he plans to take: suspending the exploration of two sites off the Alaskan coast, canceling lease sales in the Gulf and off the coast of Virginia, suspending the issuance of new permits to drill new deepwater wells for six months, and suspending action on 33 deepwater exploratory wells being drilled in the Gulf.

Obama also linked the oil debacle to the need for action on stalled Senate climate change legislation. He said he used a Tuesday meeting with Senate Republicans to try to build bipartisan support for the bill.

“If nothing else, this disaster should serve as a wake-up call that it’s time to move forward on this legislation. … So I call on Democrats and Republicans in Congress, working with my administration, to answer this challenge once and for all,” he said.

But back on the Hill, senior Senate Democratic aides said Obama hasn’t thrown more weight behind passing climate change legislation since the spill began. The House passed a cap-and-trade climate change bill last summer, but the issue hasn’t gone far in the Senate.

“I am not sure that pressure affects the political reality” faced by Senate Democratic leaders, one aide said. “We simply don’t have the votes to overcome a GOP filibuster. And given the political season, I am not sure we can ever get GOP Senators on this bill this year.”

On another front, Obama said his administration is “examining very closely” the tough new Arizona law that requires local law enforcement to question people about their immigration status if they are suspected to be in the country illegally. He said he doesn’t support the law but toed the line on the issue of whether he endorsed people boycotting Arizona in protest.

“You know, I’m the president of the United States. I don’t endorse boycotts or not endorse boycotts. That’s something that the private citizens can make a decision about,” Obama said.