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Gulf oil spill: On 'Today' show, Obama defends his role in BP crisis

June 7, 2010 |  8:11 pm

Obama listens as he is briefed on the BP oil spill

WASHINGTON — President Obama said Monday that he's been talking closely to Gulf Coast fishermen and various experts on BP's catastrophic oil spill "so I know whose ass to kick."

The salty words came in an interview in Michigan with NBC's "Today" show.

He strongly defended his role in dealing with the crisis that began with the April 20 explosion on a BP-leased oil rig in the gulf, which killed 11 workers and started the nation's worst oil spill.

"I was down there a month ago before most of these talking heads were even paying attention to the gulf," Obama told NBC's Matt Lauer. "I was meeting with fishermen in the rain talking about what a potential crisis this could be."

Some have criticized the president for not engaging passionately enough on the spill, even though he's been to the Gulf Coast three times since the disaster, his most recent visit on Friday.

Obama said he has talked to various experts on the oil spill in addition to the fishermen.

"I talk to these folks because they potentially have the best answers -- so I know whose ass to kick," the president said.

Obama was in Kalamazoo, Mich., to speak to graduating high school students. NBC aired a portion of the interview on Monday evening in advance of Tuesday's "Today" program.

Obama also launched a salvo at BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward over some of his past comments, including when Hayward said that "I want my life back," that the gulf was "a big ocean" and that "the environmental impact of this disaster is likely to be very, very modest."

"He wouldn't be working for me after any of those statements," Obama said, according to excerpts released by NBC.

Earlier, Obama sought to reassure the nation that the Gulf Coast would "bounce back" from the worst oil spill in the nation's history, but not without time, effort and reimbursement from BP.

Surrounded by Cabinet members, Obama said that not only is he confident that the crisis will pass but also that the affected area "comes back even stronger than ever."

The president and top federal officials were briefed on the government's battle against the spill by Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, who is overseeing the government's efforts in dealing with the tragedy.

Allen earlier Monday told reporters that a cap on the damaged oil well is keeping up to 462,000 gallons of oil a day from leaking into the gulf. That's up from about 441,000 gallons on Saturday and about 250,000 on Friday.

"This will be contained," Obama asserted. "It may take some time, and it's going to take a whole lot of effort. There is going to be damage done to the Gulf Coast, and there is going to be economic damages that we've got to make sure BP is responsible for and compensates people for."

Obama said government scientists and other experts confirmed that the capping device "is beginning to capture some of the oil. We are still trying to make a better determination as to how much it is capturing."

But, Obama added, "even if we are successful in containing some or much of the oil" the problem wouldn't be solved until relief wells reach the area of the damaged well in several months.

"What is clear is that the economic impact of this disaster is going to be substantial and it is going to be ongoing," Obama said.

"We also know that there's already a lot of oil that's been released, and that there's going to be more oil released no matter how successful this containment effort is," he added.

He reiterated an appeal he made on Friday in the region that BP not "nickel and dime" Gulf Coast residents and businesses that have filed claims against the London-based oil giant.

"We are going to insist that money flow quickly and in a timely basis," Obama said.

Allen acknowledged at Monday's White House briefing that the company has struggled with handling claims.

He said that we'd "like them to get better" at processing the claims and that a system for paying them should be "routinized" as soon as possible.

-- Associated Press

Photo: President Obama listens during a briefing on the oil spill in May. Credit: Pete Souza / White House

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