Nightly News   |  May 27, 2010

Obama on spill response: We are in charge

In response to growing criticism over his response to the oil spill crisis, President Barack Obama launched a PR offensive Thursday with a full-blown news conference designed to convey that the buck stops with him. NBC's Chuck Todd reports.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: As we mentioned, in response to this growing anger, the president today called his first full-blown East Room at the White House press conference in 10 months before he travels to Louisiana again tomorrow. Today he took responsibility for fixing this spill. He said it's on his mind and his agenda, as you heard him say, all day, every day. Our chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd was there. He has our report from the White House tonight. Chuck , good evening.

CHUCK TODD reporting: Good evening, Brian . Well, look, as more oil has washed ashore on the gulf coast , those voices of frustration have gotten louder, and the target's been the president. So today was part one of what is a PR offensive, a

presidential news conference designed to convey an old presidential axiom: The buck stops with him. Thirty-eight days after America 's worst oil spill , the president met the press to answer a basic question, `Who's in charge, BP or the government ?'

President BARACK OBAMA: The American people should know that from the moment this disaster began, the federal government has been in charge of the response effort.

TODD: It was a theme he would touch on repeatedly during his hour-long news conference.

Pres. OBAMA: BP is operating at our direction. I intend to use the full force of the federal government . The United States government has always been in charge. Those who think that we were either slow on our response or lacked urgency don't know the facts.

TODD: Calling himself angry and frustrated, the president did acknowledge shortcomings.

Pres. OBAMA: What is true is that when it comes to stopping the leak down below, the federal government does not possess superior technology to BP . Are we doing everything perfectly out there? Then the answer is absolutely not. We can always do better.

TODD: One specific example the president cited was the delay in getting accurate information about the amount of oil spewing out.

Pres. OBAMA: There was a lag of several weeks that I think -- that I think shouldn't have happened.

TODD: The president extended a moratorium on exploratory deep water oil drilling for another six months and canceled oil drilling leases off the coasts of Virginia , Alaska and the western gulf. As for comparisons some are making to President Bush 's response to Katrina ...

Pres. OBAMA: I'm confident that people are going to look back and say that this administration was on top of what was an unprecedented crisis.

TODD: And as if realizing he had not yet driven home the message that he came to the East Room to make, the president at the very end made it personal.

Pres. OBAMA: And it's not just me, by the way. And when I woke up this morning , and I'm shaving and Malia knocks on my bathroom door and she peeks in her head and she says, `Did you plug the hole yet, Daddy ?'

TODD: All right, Brian , we did see the first government casualty of this crisis. Liz Birnbaum , the head of the Minerals Management Services , they're the government agency in charge of regulating offshore oil drilling , she was essentially fired. She technically resigned. Her boss, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar , I'm told, had lost confidence in her. By the way, the president at the news conference, Brian , did express confidence in Secretary Salazar .

WILLIAMS: All right. Chuck Todd working this story at the White House . Chuck , thanks.