President Barack Obama rejected criticism of his response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill Sunday, saying in an interview airing on “NBC Nightly News” that his administration jumped on the crisis immediately and was determined to hold BP accountable.
Obama was interviewed Sunday afternoon by “Nightly News” anchor and managing editor Brian Williams while on a trip to New Orleans to help commemorate Hurricane Katrina, which made landfall five years ago.
Obama’s predecessor, President George W. Bush, was widely criticized for his administration’s response to Katrina, which killed more than 1,800 people and laid waste to this city and much of the surrounding Gulf Coast.
As BP struggled for weeks to cap the well that began gushing oil into the Gulf of Mexico in April, Obama came under similar pressure from environmental activists who said the federal government should have stepped in earlier and taken greater control — leading, as Williams noted, to critics’ characterization of the oil spill as “Obama’s Katrina.”“That is just not accurate,” Obama said, pointing to the $20 billion fund BP set up under federal supervision to compensate victims of the oil spill.
Obama said failures in the aftermath of Katrina made it clear that “the real protection for New Orleans and the coast are the wetlands,” lessons that he said provided important guidance in allowing his administration to respond quickly in the days after the oil spill.
“We’ve got a lot more work to do,” he said. “But the fact is because of the sturdiness and swiftness of the response, there’s a lot less oil hitting these shores and these beaches than anybody would have anticipated given the volume that was coming out of the BP oil well.”
If anything, Obama said, “this is an opportunity for us to take a look comprehensively all along the coast and say, ‘How do we do things better? How do we do things smarter than we've done before?’”
Of criticism of the federal response, he concluded, “We’ve got to put all that stuff aside and come in and make sure we get the job done.”
Obama says he didn’t watch Beck rally
Obama briefly touched on several issues in a wide-ranging 20-minute interview, which took place under umbrellas in the New Orleans rain. He said he remained confident in his administration’s policies in Iraq and Afghanistan — the topic of his scheduled nationally televised address Tuesday night — and he urged Americans to have patience with the economic recovery.
Obama acknowledged that many Americans remained out of work while others were being badly pinched. But he said the recovery was a long-term effort that would pay dividends even if it was painful now.
“What we know is that we are going to have to slowly, steadily build confidence — push more investment out there, target areas like clean energy that we know are going to be growth areas in the future,” he said.
The president also chuckled when he was asked about polls that show many Americans still believe he was born outside the United States or was a Muslim. He said he didn’t pay much attention to such perceptions, which he blamed on “a network of misinformation that in a new media era can get churned out there constantly.”
"I can't spend all my time with my birth certificate plastered on my forehead,” he added. “The facts are the facts.”
He seemed intent on casting himself as above the political fray, saying he had more important work to do than to engage in the back and forth of the political “silly season.”
For example, Obama said he did not watch any of Fox News Channel host Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally Saturday on the National Mall.
“It’s not surprising that somebody like a Mr. Beck is able to stir up a certain portion of the country. That's been true throughout our history,” he said. But “what I’m focused on is making sure that the decisions we’re making now are going to be be not good for the nightly news, not good even necessarily for the next election, but are good for the next generation.”
Obama: New Orleans ‘is coming back’
The interview took place about an hour after Obama sought to reassure Gulf Coast residents that he was still focused on the region’s larger recovery efforts after Katrina, the recession and the oil spill.
“My administration is going to stand with you and fight alongside you until the job is done,” he told a cheering crowd at Xavier University, a historically black, Catholic university that was badly flooded by the storm.
But as he did in the NBC News interview, the president offered no new initiatives in the struggling region, promising only that work on a fortified levee system would be finished by next year.