As the BP oil spill catastrophe drags on into its ninth week with no clear end in sight, President Obama personally decided to make his first ever nationally televised address from the Oval Office, to be delivered live at 8 p.m. Eastern Time on Tuesday.
On Air Force One en route to Biloxi, Miss., on Monday, Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton said the president wanted to use the historic setting of the Oval Office because "what we're seeing in the Gulf is a catastrophe the likes of which we've never seen before."
Previewing the speech, Burton said, "The president is going to talk directly with the American people about some of the steps that we've taken to stop the flow of oil into the Gulf, some of the things we've done to mitigate the damage that's caused by the oil that's spilled out already and what we're going to do moving forward here, how we're going to help to make the people of Mississippi and Alabama and Florida and all these states in the Gulf whole again as a result of the damage that's been caused.
"He'll talk a little bit about workers' safety. He'll talk to them about food safety, as well, to make sure that the American people know that we're doing everything that we can, that we're monitoring in each and every place possible to ensure that folks are made whole, that the American people are kept safe," Burton said.
Asked about the significance of Obama's first Oval Office address, Burton said, "What we're seeing in the Gulf is a catastrophe the likes of which our country has never seen before, so the response has been enormous, the assets and the full power of the federal government has been brought to bear here, and so talking directly with the American people about what we're doing to address this crisis and what we're going to be doing moving forward is very important to the president right now."
That Obama has yet to use Oval Office for a speech, as other presidents have on issues that have gripped the nation, demonstrates how devastating the White House views the oil spill and how its response, for better or worse, may define the Obama presidency.
Presidential historian Douglas Brinkley, in an interview with Politics Daily, said Obama's decision on addressing the nation is significant because "the Oval Office provides the aura of huge national importance."
"This is his fourth visit to the Gulf and he is making many speeches in the region," Brinkley said. "What he has to do is show he has collected anecdotes, facts and eyewitness accounts and bring them back to Washington and use the ultimate bully pulpit, the Oval Office prime time address to the nation as his venue."
Brinkley said the Oval Office setting "offers gravitas and a way to communicate to the American public (that the catastrophe) is of great importance to the nation, particularly when President Obama gives so many interviews and seems to give a speech a day."
Obama, who Brinkley called "one of our most visible presidents" will deliver remarks about the spill from Alabama at 4:40 p.m. eastern time on Monday. Obama overnights in Pensacola on a swing taking him to Florida, Alabama and Mississippi.
A key element in Obama's Oval Office speech — and in a meeting on Wednesday with the BP chairman and chief executive Carl-Henric Svanberg — will be establishing a BP-funded escrow account administered by a third party to handle claims.
"The President will make clear that he expects, and that if necessary (he) will exercise his full legal authority to ensure, that BP sets aside the funds required to pay individuals and businesses damaged by this massive spill and that those funds will be paid out under fair, efficient, and transparent procedures administered by an independent third-party panel established just for this purpose," a White House spokesman told Politics Daily.
White House Senior Advisor David Axelrod said Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press, "We're at a kind of inflection point in this saga because we now know that what — essentially what we can do and what we can't do in terms of collecting oil and, and what lies ahead in the next few months, and he wants to lay out the steps that we're going to take from here to get through this, through this crisis.