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Frustrated? Yes. Reassuring? That's still to be determined.
President Obama, his administration increasingly under siege over its handling of the continuing oil spill in the Gulf, tried to answer questions and limit the damage at a midday news conference today at the East Room of the White House. The jury is still out as to whether he did what he hoped to do.
Obama's purpose from the outset seemed clear: to assure the American people that the White House has been consumed with fixing the problem from the moment the BP oil spill began in the Gulf April 20, following an explosion that cost 11 workers their lives. And he aggressively made it clear who the bad guys were: British Petroleum, the Minerals Management Service, the longtime cozy and scandalous relationship between the oil industry and government regulators.
If he was at fault for anything, it was that he wrongly believed that the oil companies would be able to deal with such a spill.
But polls show that, in addition to the anger and frustration that is out there — which Obama acknowledged — there is a diminishing amount of confidence in his administration and its ability to fix the problem.
And not everyone was satisfied by some of the answers at today's presser. Asked by CBS News White House correspondent Chip Reid whether MMS director Liz Birnbaum, in charge of the agency that oversees offshore drilling, was fired or resigned — that news broke shortly before Obama faced the media — the president said he didn't know. An incredulous Jackie Calmes of the New York Times wondered how a president who assumed total control of the situation would not know the answer to that.
Calmes also wanted to know why, given the president's anger over the problems going on with MMS, he nonetheless called for expanded drilling in the Gulf only a few months ago. Obama said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and others had been making progress but clearly not enough was being done.
In response to a question by Fox News' Major Garrett, regarding what he thought about Salazar saying the administration had placed a "boot on the neck" of BP, Obama said that his Cabinet secretary was frustrated and angry over what had happened, but acknowledged, "We don't need to use language like that."
But one came away from the hour-long news conference with the sense that for all his prowess at being a superb communicator, it was unclear whether he felt the pain of those in the Gulf who are suffering the most. The president had the numbers at his disposal, but he often sounded more mechanical and analytical than emotional ... a trait that often did him well in the past but maybe not at moments like this. If the goal was to reassure the American people that his administration was in charge, I'm not sure if he accomplished that.
In other topics, the president reiterated his complaint about the immigration law passed in Arizona and explained his reasoning for sending up to 1,200 National Guard troops to the border. But he refused to take a stand on the proposed boycott of Arizona because of the law.
And what about that alleged job offer to Joe Sestak, the Pennsylvania Senate candidate, to get him to drop his challenge to Arlen Specter (see yesterday's Junkie post)? The president said there will be an "official response shortly."
Complete text of Obama news conference here.