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President Obama Delivers Address on Gulf Oil Crisis

Aired June 15, 2010 - 20:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening from Washington. We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting.

We are moments away from President Obama's first Oval Office address to the nation, at issue, the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Americans want answers, none more so than residents of the Gulf.

CNN's Anderson Cooper has covered this story from day one and joins us from New Orleans right now.

Anderson, what are the folks down there really want to hear from the president?

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "ANDERSON COOPER 360": You know, people want to see actions. They want to see things change on the ground. They want to see oil being collected. They want to see real resolve in the face of this.

And, also, they want guarantees that BP is going to pay what they say they will. Right now, there is a $75 million liability cap. BP says they are not going to be beholden to that; they are going to pay legitimate claims.

I think a lot of people here support that idea, the idea of an escrow account, setting aside billions of dollars by BP in order to actually pay future claims. They want to know that the claims being made now are going to get paid in a timely manner. And so far, they haven't been, a new report out by the state of Louisiana today saying just that, saying that the data that BP is supposed to be giving the state isn't being collected, isn't being handed over in a timely manner.

There's a lot of promises being made. People here want to see actions. We're going to be watching the address with the president of Plaquemines Parish, Billy Nungesser. We will have more tonight -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And the best political team on television is here with us, Anderson. We will assess exactly what is going on.

The president of the United States getting ready to address the nation. He is in the Oval Office of the White House.

Let's go there right now. BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Good evening. As we speak, our nation faces a multitude of challenges. At home, our top priority is to recover and rebuild from a recession that has touched the lives of nearly every American. Abroad, our brave men and women in uniform are taking the fight to al Qaeda wherever it exists.

And tonight, I have returned from a trip to the Gulf Coast to speak with you about the battle we're waging against an oil spill that is assaulting our shores and our citizens.

On April 20th, an explosion ripped through BP Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, about 40 miles off the coast of Louisiana. Eleven workers lost their lives. Seventeen others were injured. And soon, nearly a mile beneath the surface of the ocean, oil began spewing into the water.

Because there's never been a leak this size at this depth, stopping it has tested the limits of human technology. That's why, just after the rig sank, I assembled a team of our nation's best scientists and engineers to tackle this challenge, a team led by Dr. Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist and our nation's secretary of energy. Scientists at our national labs and experts from academia and other oil companies have also provided ideas and advice.

As a result of these efforts, we've directed BP to mobilize additional equipment and technology. And in the coming weeks and days, these efforts should capture up to 90 percent of the oil leaking out of the well. This is until the company finishes drilling a relief well later in the summer that's expected to stop the leak completely.

Already, this oil spill is the worst environmental disaster America has ever faced. And unlike an earthquake or a hurricane, it's not a single event that does its damage in a matter of minutes or days. The millions of gallons of oil that have spilled into the Gulf of Mexico are more like an epidemic, one that we will be fighting for months and even years.

But make no mistake: We will fight this spill with everything we've got for as long it takes. We will make BP pay for the damage their company has caused. And we will do whatever's necessary to help the Gulf Coast and its people recover from this tragedy.

Tonight, I would like to lay out for you what our battle plan is going forward: what we're doing to clean up the oil, what we're doing to help our neighbors in the gulf, and what we're doing to make sure that a catastrophe like this never happens again.

First, the clean-up.

From the very beginning of this crisis, the federal government has been in charge of the largest environmental clean-up effort in our nation's history, an effort led by Admiral Thad Allen, who has almost 40 years of experience responding to disasters. We now have nearly 30,000 personnel who are working across four states to contain and clean up the oil. Thousands of ships and other vessels are responding in the gulf. And I have authorized the deployment of over 17,000 National Guard members along the coast. These servicemen and women are ready to help stop the oil from coming ashore, they're ready to help clean the beaches, train response workers, or even help with processing claims, and I urge the governors in the affected states to activate these troops as soon as possible.

Because of our efforts, millions of gallons of oil have already been removed from the water through burning, skimming, and other collection methods. Over 5. 5 million feet of boom has been laid across the water to block and absorb the approaching oil. We've approved the construction of new barrier islands in Louisiana to try to stop the oil before it reaches the shore, and we're working with Alabama, Mississippi and Florida to implement creative approaches to their unique coastlines.

As the clean-up continues, we will offer whatever additional resources and assistance our coastal states may need.

Now, a mobilization of this speed and magnitude will never be perfect, and new challenges will always arise. I saw and heard evidence of that during this trip. So if something isn't working, we want to hear about it. If there are problems in the operation, we will fix them.

But we have to recognize that, despite our best efforts, oil has already caused damage to our coastline and its wildlife. And sadly, no matter how effective our response is, there will be more oil and more damage before this siege is done.

That's why the second thing we're focused on is the recovery and restoration of the Gulf Coast.

You know, for generations, men and women who call this region home have made their living from the water. That living is now in jeopardy. I have talked to shrimpers and fishermen who don't know how they're going to support their families this year. I have seen empty docks and restaurants with fewer customers, even in areas where the beaches are not yet affected.

I have talked to owners of shops and hotels who wonder when the tourists might start coming back. The sadness and the anger they feel is not just about the money they have lost; it's about a wrenching anxiety that their way of life may be lost.

I refuse to let that happen. Tomorrow, I will meet with the chairman of BP and inform him that he is to set aside whatever resources are required to compensate the workers and business owners who have been harmed as a result of his company's recklessness.

And this fund will not be controlled by BP. In order to ensure that all legitimate claims are paid out in a fair and timely manner, the account must and will be administered by an independent third party. Beyond compensating the people of the gulf in the short term, it's also clear we need a long-term plan to restore the unique beauty and bounty of this region. The oil spill represents just the latest blow to a place that's already suffered multiple economic disasters and decades of environmental degradation that has led to disappearing wetlands and habitats.

And the region still hasn't recovered from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. That's why we must make a commitment to the Gulf Coast that goes beyond responding to the crisis of the moment.

I make that commitment tonight.

Earlier, I asked Ray Mabus, the secretary of the Navy, who's also a former governor of Mississippi and a son of the Gulf Coast, to develop a long-term Gulf Coast Restoration Plan as soon as possible. The plan will be designed by states, local communities, tribes, fishermen, businesses, conservationists, and other gulf residents. And BP will pay for the impact this spill has had on the region.

The third part of our response plan is the steps we're taking to ensure that a disaster like this does not happen again.

A few months ago, I approved a proposal to consider new, limited offshore drilling under the assurance that it would be absolutely safe, that the proper technology would be in place and the necessary precautions would be taken.

That obviously was not the case in the Deepwater Horizon rig, and I want to know why. The American people deserve to know why. The families I met with last week who lost their loved ones in the explosion, these families deserve to know why.

And so I have established a national commission to understand the causes of this disaster and offer recommendations on what additional safety and environmental standards we need to put in place. Already I have issued a six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling.

I know this creates difficulty for the people who work on these rigs, but for the sake of their safety and for the sake of the entire region, we need to know the facts before we allow deepwater drilling to continue. And while I urge the commission to complete its work as quickly as possible, I expect them to do that work thoroughly and impartially.

Now, one place we've already begun to take action is at the agency in charge of regulating drilling and issuing permits, known as the Minerals Management Service.

Over the last decade, this agency has become emblematic of a failed philosophy that views all regulation with hostility, a philosophy that says corporations should be allowed to play by their own rules and police themselves.

At this agency, industry insiders were put in charge of industry oversight. Oil companies showered regulators with gifts and favors and were essentially allowed to conduct their own safety inspections and write their own regulations.

And when Ken Salazar became my secretary of the interior, one of his very first acts was to clean up the worst of the corruption at this agency. But it's now clear that the problem there ran much deeper and the pace of reform was just too slow.

And so Secretary Salazar and I are bringing in new leadership at the agency: Michael Bromwich, who was a tough federal prosecutor and inspector general. And his charge over the next few months is to build an organization that acts as the oil industry's watchdog, not its partner.

So one of the lessons we've learned from this spill is that we need better regulations, better safety standards, and better enforcement when it comes to offshore drilling. But a larger lesson is that, no matter how much we improve our regulation of the industry, drilling for oil these days entails greater risk.

After all, oil is a finite resource. We consume more than 20 percent of the world's oil, but have less than 2 percent of the world's oil reserves. And that's part of the reason oil companies are drilling a mile beneath the surface of the ocean: because we're running out of places to drill on land and in shallow water.

For decades, we have known the days of cheap and easily accessible oil were numbered. For decades, we've talked and talked about the need to end America's century-long addiction to fossil fuels. And for decades, we have failed to act with the sense of urgency that this challenge requires.

Time and again, the path forward has been blocked, not only by oil industry lobbyists, but also by a lack of political courage and candor.

The consequences of our inaction are now in plain sight. Countries like China are investing in clean-energy jobs and industries that should be right here in America. Each day, we send nearly $1 billion of our wealth to foreign countries for their oil. And today, as we look to the gulf, we see an entire way of life being threatened by a menacing cloud of black crude.

We cannot consign our children to this future. The tragedy unfolding on our coast is the most painful and powerful reminder yet that the time to embrace a clean-energy future is now. Now is the moment for this generation to embark on a national mission to unleash America's innovation and seize control of our own destiny.

This is not some distant vision for America. The transition away from fossil fuels is going to take some time. But over the last year- and-a-half, we've already taken unprecedented action to jump-start the clean-energy industry.

As we speak, old factories are reopening to produce wind turbines, people are going back to work installing energy-efficient windows, and small businesses are making solar panels. Consumers are buying more efficient cars and trucks, and families are making their homes more energy-efficient. Scientists and researchers are discovering clean-energy technologies that someday will lead to entire new industries.

Each of us has a part to play in a new future that will benefit all of us. As we recover from this recession, the transition to clean energy has the potential to grow our economy and create millions of jobs, but only if we accelerate that transition, only if we seize the moment, and only if we rally together and act as one nation: workers and entrepreneurs, scientists and citizens, the public and private sectors.

You know, when I was a candidate for this office, I laid out a set of principles that would move our country towards energy independence. Last year, the House of Representatives acted on these principles by passing a strong and comprehensive energy and climate bill, a bill that finally makes clean energy the profitable kind of energy for America's businesses.

Now, there are costs associated with this transition, and there are some who believe that we can't afford those costs right now. I say we can't afford not to change how we produce and use energy, because the long-term costs to our economy, our national security, and our environment are far greater.

So I'm happy to look at other ideas and approaches from either party, as long as they seriously tackle our addiction to fossil fuels. Some have suggested raising efficiency standards in our buildings, like we did in our cars and trucks. Some believe we should set standards to ensure that more of our electricity comes from wind and solar power. Others wonder why the energy industry only spends a fraction of what the high-tech industry does on research and development, and want to rapidly boost our investments in such research and development.

All of these approaches have merit and deserve a fair hearing in the months ahead. But the one approach I will not accept is inaction. The one answer I will not settle for is the idea that this challenge is somehow too big and too difficult to meet.

You know, the same thing was said about our ability to produce enough planes and tanks in World War II. The same thing was said about our ability to harness the science and technology to land a man safely on the surface of the moon.

And yet, time and again, we have refused to settle for the paltry limits of conventional wisdom.

Instead, what has defined us as a nation since our founding is the capacity to shape our destiny, our determination to fight for the America we want for our children. Even if we're unsure exactly what that looks like, even if we don't yet precisely know how we're going to get there, we know we'll get there.

It's a faith in the future that sustains us as a people. It is that same faith that sustains our neighbors in the gulf right now. Each year, at the beginning of shrimping season, the region's fishermen take part in a tradition that was brought to America long ago by fishing immigrants from Europe. It's called "The Blessing of the Fleet," and today it's a celebration where clergy from different religions gather to say a prayer for the safety and success of the men and women who will soon head out to sea, some for weeks at a time.

The ceremony goes on in good times and in bad. It took place after Katrina, and it took place a few weeks ago, at the beginning of the most difficult season these fishermen have ever faced.

And still, they came and they prayed.

For as a priest and former fisherman once said of the tradition, "The blessing is not that God has promised to remove all obstacles and dangers. The blessing is that He is with us always," a blessing that's granted "even in the midst of the storm."

The oil spill is not the last crisis America will face. This nation has known hard times before, and we will surely know them again. What sees us through -- what has always seen us through -- is our strength, our resilience, and our unyielding faith that something better awaits us if we summon the courage to reach for it.

Tonight, we pray for that courage, we pray for the people of the gulf, and we pray that a hand may guide us through the storm towards a brighter day.

Thank you, God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.

BLITZER: And so ends President Obama's first Oval Office address to the nation, this on the Gulf oil disaster, sounding a hopeful note, indeed at one point an optimistic note, promising that within a matter of days or weeks, he says, BP should be able to capture he says 90 percent of the oil that is leaking into the Gulf of Mexico right now.

And he promises, fully expects that the leak will completely be stopped later this summer. He says that will happen. He did not put a date on that, although other experts said by August, early to mid- August, that should happen, if, and it's a huge if, if everything goes as scheduled.

He says BP will pay whatever it takes to clean up this situation. We will make BP, he says, pay for the damage their company has caused. He says the cleanup, though, could last months, if not years. This is an epidemic, the president says.

And he is going to go forward and work, no matter what it takes.

We are here for full analysis right now. The best political team on television is with me.

But let's go off to the scene right now, to New Orleans.

Anderson Cooper is standing by. The folks there wanted to hear some optimistic words from the president. They got some optimistic words, Anderson.

COOPER: They certainly did, particularly toward the end. There is a lot of resilience here. There's obvious strength here. This is a place which has recovered from Hurricane Katrina. And obviously this is a very different kind of disaster.

I think a lot of people paying attention to what the president said about wanting to set up an escrow account, where BP essentially will put billions of dollars, although the president didn't actually put a figure, into a fund that will be used to try to pay out people in a more timely manner.

I want to bring in, though, Billy Nungesser, who is president of Plaquemines Parish.

You've met with President Obama many times. What did you think of his words tonight?

BILLY NUNGESSER, PRESIDENT, PLAQUEMINES PARISH, LOUISIANA: Well, I think it was a good speech. It was encouraging.

But we need to see the action on the ground. We are still not there. We have made a lot of progress. We have got a lot of work still to do.

COOPER: What still do you need to see on the ground? You just the other day testified you don't know who is in charge.

NUNGESSER: We need to see more equipment, more organization, and more sense of our urgency to get the oil before it destroys the marshlands.

COOPER: And that's happening. It's in the marshlands right now. And you're not seeing the kind of equipment on the ground get -- to actually get that oil out.

NUNGESSER: We don't -- we don't have the resources. We have -- we need to have the resources on the ground to attack it. We can't wait for it to get in the marsh and then clean it up.

We need to fight it on many fronts, from offshore, to on the islands, in the bays and in the marsh. And those teams need to work together and eliminate the opportunity it has to get into the marsh.

COOPER: How concerned are you about BP's ability, willingness to pay these claims? And what are you hearing from your fishermen about and business owners in your district, in your parish about whether or not they are actually paying claims in a timely way?

NUNGESSER: I am really concerned, because what has happened is, they're not -- they're not getting to the people. They're not making them whole, and they don't know if they're going to get a check next month. So, we need a plan spelled out in writing, so nobody can renege, they don't get a different story tomorrow or the next day. We need to make sure we have that down in writing, so people have something they can take home and know that next month they are going to be made whole or the month after that, and something concrete, because there is a lot of mistrust with BP.

And I think the president was right on, if they get involved and the federal government holds BP's feet to the fire, puts the money aside to make sure those payments will be made.

James Carville, you have very been critical of the White House's response to this, of many aspects of this. What was your take on what the president said?

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I thought it was a well-delivered speech. I really thought he did a good job.

From my thing is, he said it would be captured 90 percent in a couple of weeks. If that is the case, that would be optimistic. If the relief well is functioning and working and by late summer, later this summer, that would be encouraging.

I hope that he is right in these two assessments. We will see. In terms of something people were looking for, Governor Mabus, who is a fine man, he talked about restoration. I think that would be -- that was something that people will take very favorably and obviously to do something about MMS.

The rest of it, I thought, was a competently delivered speech, but not a -- sort of a ton of news. We knew they were going to establish this fund. Maybe -- it's only fair to the president. They are going to meet with the BP people tomorrow.

And the big thing there in terms of people like Billy is to get that figure and get to some relief for these localities that are -- that are really kind of front-line fighting this stuff. And it is very important for people to know that, once it gets in the marshes, it is really bad.

And we got some in the marshes now. We have got to keep it out. But I thought that -- hopefully, he's right on the 90 percent and, hopefully, he's right on the later-this-summer number.

COOPER: And, Mary, obviously, the news that broke right before the president spoke that was announced is that they now say it is upwards of -- could be up as high as 60,000, a new estimate, about anywhere from 35,000 to 60,000 barrels of oil have been pouring into the Gulf every single day.

Just last week, they said it was, well, upwards of 40,000. Now they say 60,000. Whether or not that overshadows what the president had to say, that certainly captured a lot of people's attention here.

MARY MATALIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: (AUDIO GAP) people are warming enough to the subject to understand that what he said was very specific and heartening, if it's true, that they can contain, however more exponential this gusher is coming out, that he was very specific about that, they can and they will, and that they're in charge of this.

The Mabus coastal restoration, great news. We don't need to study. We have studies. You know all these people who have run all these studies across the state and across the region, Anderson. And that's -- they don't have -- we don't have to delay on that. We can start that right away.

Very lamentable, and you will be hearing about this from Billy, and Bobby, and everybody else, is the -- even though there has been many solutions given to accelerating this moratorium to assure that drilling can continue safely in deep water and shallow water, the jobs that are dependent not just on the rigs, but the vessels, and the vendors, these are hundreds of thousands of jobs and that he just left that in there like that dependent on a commission that hasn't been sat yet to write new rules.

That impact on the national economy is -- is shocking. I don't even know -- it's just shocking that he left that in there, despite the fact that scientists who were part of that study disagree with it. Economists disagree with it. It's inexplicable. And it will be lost in tonight's discussion, but that's what you will be hearing in the days going forward.

COOPER: And, Wolf, you know, with the president saying that by mid-July they are going to be able to capture some 90 percent of the oil, just bear in mind, all along, BP has been saying that they were planning for a worst-case scenario before.

Remember, in their spill response plan that they filed with the government, and was basically rubber-stamped, they claimed they could handle a spill of up to 250,000 barrels a day. So, all along, when they were saying, well, the size of the spill doesn't matter, because we are planning for a worst-case scenario, the fact that they were shipping in equipment in order to be able to contain and capture as -- 50,000 or 60,000 barrels shows that they weren't up to a worst-case scenario.

BLITZER: Yes, there's no doubt about that. Anderson, stand by.

Let's bring in the best political team on television .

John King, I thought it was interesting. The president says he's authorized 17,000 National Guard troops to be deployed to help the governors in these states. "I urge the governors in these affected states to activate these troops as soon as possible."

Only one or two thousand have been activated. And White House officials tell me they don't understand why the governors aren't acting.

JOHN KING, HOST, "JOHN KING, USA": Well, to a degree, the governors say they don't have the equipment for them to use when you get there. When I was in Alabama, I did see Alabama National Guards. They were working on Dauphin Island. I believe there's a small number at work in Louisiana in some of those marches Billy Nungesser was just talking about.

But what -- the complaints you get in the area is, if you brought them in, what would they do. Are there enough booms? Are there enough vessels? How can we fight this offshore? The National Guard can't do that. That has to be the Coast Guard and offshore assets.

So, what the president was -- what the president was trying to do here is go through a -- sort of a list of things. Look, we are doing a lot and we do have other resources available to try to answer the criticism -- and you can see Billy right there shaking his head.

When you go through these communities, people say they keep hearing help is coming. They keep -- but then when they say, well, this is what I need, they keep getting sent to a meeting.

BLITZER: Well, let's ask Billy Nungesser why he was shaking his head like that.

Billy, go ahead

NUNGESSER: Well, people is not the answer.

We gave them a plan Saturday, a grid offshore where we want to know how long is it going to take to pick up the oil that is offshore, on the islands, in the bays, and in the marsh? We saw it out there for three weeks.

Well, we laid out a plan that we thought we need enough equipment, with hurricane season coming, to pick it up in one to three days. Now, right now, if that is taking three weeks, how long is it going to take to shorten that time frame offshore, on the barrier islands, and in the bays?

What is it going to take to shorten that time frame? And we need to do it quickly. If we get a hurricane in the Gulf, it could take all that oil in Barataria Bay, lift it up in a matter of hours, and lay it across coastal Louisiana and wipe us out.

We don't have the luxury of all these men on the ground gearing up, revving up, whatever they're going to do. You know, when Thad Allen says he is considering bringing in foreign equipment, the time for considering is over. That equipment should have been on its way weeks ago.

When we met with the president, I gave Thad Allen a book with all that foreign equipment in it. We need to get everything moved. And we need to shorten the time frame. When we see it, pick it up, get it out of there before a hurricane has an opportunity to dump it on us.

And where we are standing today, it could be here in the right hurricane. We can't take that chance. KING: There has been, Wolf, some of the foreign equipment arriving in recent days, skimmers from Norway, skimmers from the Dutch.

But, to Billy's point, when you go from port town to port town, fishing village to fishing village, that's the complaint you hear. Why can't you do a better job fighting it out there and keep it from coming into the coastal areas, whether it's where people swim or whether it's where the fishing villages are.

And so that is the frustration you get now. Is this all the president's fault? Of course not. But is he the one who gets blamed when the resources are not there, are not moving as quickly as possible? That's a huge thing.

One other quick point out I would like to make, if the president wanted to use this tonight as a moment of national unity, he went through the details of the Gulf spill in a pretty good way. But he opened a political debate, too, by using a third to a half of his speech to talk about let's turn the corner to the clean energy debate.

It is a legitimate policy debate the country needs to have, without a doubt, but there are many who are going to say, not now, Mr. President.

BLITZER: It's going to anger, Candy, some Republicans out there who aren't interested in a political -- they say a political fight. They just want to end the spill.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It -- well, it already has angered them. They sort of did a prebuttal and said, wait a minute. Don't be talking about this. Let's plug this leak. Let's clean this up.

So, yes, it is. But I have to tell you, there are also Democrats who don't like some of the things that are in this plan. So, it's not just Republicans.

I think the other thing I would add is that every governor I have talked to over the last two months has said, this is so confusing. There are 14, I think Governor Riley said, 14 government agencies down here all with veto power.

We don't know. So, it's another reason why just putting more people there won't help, because, you know, it's still that, like, who is in charge? You know, can OSHA come here and say, no, these workers can't do that?

So, they're just having a problem with the command-and-control, they say.

BLITZER: We have got a lot more to discuss. We are only getting started. Ali Velshi is down in the Gulf Coast with Louisiana residents. We're going to hear what they have to say about the president's Oval Office address. Much more of our special coverage right after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: The president finished addressing the nation, probably about 15 minutes or so ago. Our coverage continues from Washington and I'm also here in Louisiana. I want to show you some of what the president said about a meeting he plans to have tomorrow with BP. Take a look.


OBAMA: The millions of gallons of oil that have spilled into the Gulf of Mexico are more like an epidemic. One that we will be fighting for months and even years. But make no mistake. We will fight this spill with everything we've got, for as long as it takes. We will make BP pay for the damage their company has caused. And we will do whatever is necessary to help the Gulf Coast and its people recover from this tragedy.


COOPER: David Gergen is standing by. David, you worked in the White Houses of both Democrats and Republicans. You've seen a lot of Oval Office addresses. What did you think of this one?

DAVID GERGEN, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Anderson, crisp speech, well delivered. He probably looked good in the Oval Office. It surprised me that it lacked specific action. You've been saying all along, from the coast, people are looking for more. It's chaotic there. It's disorganized. It's not coming together in terms of the response.

I expected, as you normally look to in an Oval Office address, a big speech. We've got these problems. And here are the three things I'm going to do. And to start with I'm going to mobilize in a new and different way, a big command and control structure to really get this cleaned up moving. It's not working the way I want. We didn't hear that tonight. And I was surprised by that.

There were other elements I liked. But I just, somehow, it was a reassuring speech. I think it was intended to be a reassuring speech. I'm not sure it moved the country in the sense of I'm taking command of this and I'm going to change what's not working.

COOPER: Billy, you were nodding your head saying, yes, that's what you wanted to hear?

NUNGESSER: Yes, we need to see something that's going to get the oil picked up in a fair amount of time. What we've been asking, you know, it's unacceptable taking three weeks. Are we working towards a time when we can see this oil picked up before it destroys the marsh in one, two or three days? Something that we can live with because without that we're playing Russian roulette waiting for a storm to come to the gulf and take all this oil and dump it in our wetlands and possibly in our city.

So we need all the equipment, all the boots on the ground is great. But if there is no plan to shorten that timeframe, because the time frame it is now and has been is unacceptable. So, you know, we're out there today with a wet vac picking up oil out to the shoreline that's come ashore. We need to make sure, it doesn't matter how much equipment, if it's not organized to get it picked up in a timely manner in those four or five stages that we set up that's got to happen. And if it's three weeks now, and we're working towards making it three days, how long is that going to take? And that's the answers we need from BP and the Coast Guard.

COOPER: Gloria Borger, I know you have a comment -- Gloria.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's just interesting to me in reading the speech and listening to Barack Obama. First of all, he was using the language of war a lot, Anderson. He talked about this large battle ahead of us. We're waging war. The gulf under siege. And -- so on the one hand, he's talking about a war. On the other hand, sometimes it sounded a little bit like a power point presentation. You know, we can mobilize 17,000 National Guard. We've got, we've got this much put up. We're sending this much more to the gulf.

And I think to David Gergen's point earlier, I don't know how much inspiration this will give to people. I think that what he did do was hold someone accountable. First of all, he held BP accountable which is going to be very, very important to people in the gulf when they talk about getting their money back and getting their lives back. And he also, I believe, held himself accountable for the first time, essentially saying -- I am in charge. The government is in charge. And we will get through this.

We heard him take responsibility once before. This is the second time we've done it. Not inspirational, but at least he said I'm in control.

COOPER: Yes, you know, I wonder, James, if he had actually maybe been listening to you a little bit because you've been talking about war and battle for quite some time now. Do you think they are waging war here? Do you think they are actually using all the resources? I mean, is it, if this is a war, are we winning?

CARVILLE: No, we're not. But hopefully tonight, I mean, I thought, I agree with David. I know one thing, and I want to be very supportive of the president. It's not going to be months, I promise you that. More like years or decades is what this battle is going to be going on to.

Yes, I do think we're being invaded. And I thought that we should employ some extraordinary powers, just to streamline things. You know, we could give the president more solid powers here. I think this is going to continue. I think this is a catastrophe of the first magnitude and every piece of information we get seems to verify that. Tonight, it was an important speech. Tomorrow with BP is an important meeting. And hopefully we are on a new course here to really do this.

BLITZER: I just want to point out that we're just getting in, John, a statement from a spokesman from BP, setting the stage for the big meeting at the White House with the president tomorrow.

KING: Big meeting tomorrow at the White House, Wolf. And obviously they were watching the president's speech tonight. And here is what BP is saying officially after the speech. Quote, "We share the president's goal of shutting off the well as quickly as possible, cleaning up the oil and mitigating the impact on the people and environment of the Gulf Coast. We look forward to meeting with President Obama tomorrow for a constructive discussion about how best to achieve these mutual goals."

So mutual goals there, they would say. And the president in his meetings down in the Gulf Coast the last few days has used the $20 billion to $25 billion figure. He did not use one tonight in the speech, but he has used in his meeting with local officials. But, Wolf, the challenge here is so BP issues a support of statement of the president's speech. Well, guess what? Everybody who lives down there who's going through this right now they don't trust BP, period. And they're worried about the federal response. So any statement from BP saying, good job, Mr. President, is not going to help the president.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens tomorrow. Joe Johns is going to be standing by. Hold on for a moment, guys. Ali Velshi is in Louisiana with a group of residents down there who watched this speech very closely. We'll check in with Ali and the folks down there. Much more of our coverage right after this.


COOPER: And welcome back. We are live in New Orleans. We're looking a shot of the Mississippi River. Just about coming here. We're about 30 minutes since the president addressing the nation, his first Oval Office address. We're discussing here with the president of Plaquemines Parish Billy Nungesser. Also the entire panel assembled in Washington, D.C.

Ali Velshi has been in Lafitte, Louisiana, which is in Jefferson Parish with a group of residents there watching the president's speech. I want to go him now, get some reaction, how the speech was seen by the folks there -- Ali.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, thanks very much. We were all watching this together in this room. We're in Lafitte Jefferson Parish. Everybody in this room, almost everybody is involved in the fishery industry, in shrimping. Everybody knows somebody who's involved in the oil industry. And the one thing I asked them, what did they not hear about enough in the speech. And they all said ending the spill, closing that hole, stopping this leak. That's what they were puzzled about that after all this time they haven't heard about that.

But I wan to just take you, Anderson, to people around here and what they're saying. I was talking about how they feel about whether the president has got this under control or BP does. This gentleman over there, you are a prime example of somebody telling me you don't think anybody outside of this place has a good picture on this. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can't let the fox watch the hen house. I mean, you know, hey, BP is watching the hen house you can't do that. You got to bring people in that know. Hey, the mayor knows Lafitte. Our mayor can't go to Florida and fix their problem. But you need to let the mayor in Lafitte fix his problem just like the guy in Florida fix their problem.

VELSHI: Sir, what's your sense of what you heard tonight?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, what the president said about stopping oil drilling because we have a lot of family. I'm a fisherman. My son went into the oil business because the price of the shrimp were so bad and we're worried about stopping drilling. I don't think he really should be stopping drilling.

VELSHI: Ma'am, you are not from here. A lot of people in this room from here. You're not here, you're a stranger because you've only been here 40 years.


VELSHI: And you're very worried now about what your future holds?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I'm married to a fisherman and I work on the back end of a boat for 30-some-odd years. And I'm pretty sure I'll never go back on the boat now because I don't think there's going to be any fishing for us again. I work on the (INAUDIBLE) water and it's full of oil out there.

VELSHI: Ma'am, you were telling me that you're very worried about what this region is going to go through. Nobody in this room thinks it's going to recover in less than 10 years.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's right. And I have -- and with the oil industry I have sons working for the -- everything they do is the oil industries. I have fishermen in the family. And I don't know what my grandchildren and great grandchildren are going to be doing in the future.

VELSHI: You're worried about this.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Stop the oil from coming in here.

VELSHI: All right. Anderson, so a lot of people around here very, very concerned. I should tell you, I've heard this here. I heard it in Bayou La Batre. I heard from oystermen and from shrimpers this was going to be a banner year. This started off being a great year then the dispersants and the oil. They are very, very concerned, Anderson, that their livelihoods, their entire way of doing things that they've done for generations around here is, is and could be gone. Their biggest concern is when is this oil going to stop coming out of there. And until they know that they can't even hazard a guess as to when life gets back to normal for them. But for now, it's not normal. I'm in a room with a lot of very scared people -- Anderson.

COOPER: Yes, Ali, thanks. I want to go to Donna Brazile.

Donna, a lot of folks said look, there's this cold winter. That's a good sign for shrimp around this time. This is the prime shrimping season right now. You know, folks should be out there fishing. This is the time they make their money. In fact, they're not making money now. They lose throughout much of the year. This is the time, the only time they have to really take the money in.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, as you heard from some of the residents of Jefferson Parish, you know this is a part of the country where people live off the land. They've been living by the sea for centuries. It is what they know. One brother might work on the rig associated with the oil companies, while the other brother is a fisherman. And this is how people have survived. And this is how we have not made a living but we've also helped the country because we provide both of those resources, the petroleum from the gulf as well as the seafood from the gulf to the country and to the world.

But, Anderson, I just want to make one last point. Eleven lives were lost. Eleven people lost their lives that day when that rig exploded. And we owe it to them to make sure that we go back into that gulf safely. That we clean up this mess. The president outlined a battle plan. But with any battle plan, you need somebody to execute. You've got to make sure it's implemented. You've got to hold someone responsible. And I hope that the White House after tonight will continue to press forward not just on the compensation with BP, so that the people down there don't have to grovel the same way they did after Hurricane Katrina but they would know that their money, their resources will be there so that they can continue to make a living and continue with our fine traditions. I'll say this, we have four seasons in Louisiana -- shrimp, oyster, crab and crawfish. And we will continue that tradition. And we will continue to export around the world.

COOPER: Yes, and we should point out, also, New Orleans is open for business. Someone at the hotel the other day said they had a honeymoon couple cancel their trip here. No reason to cancel any trip to New Orleans or frankly any of these places along the Gulf Coast. The seafood here is great. I just had some earlier today. No reason not to come here. This city is rising and is just getting better and better.

Let's check in quickly with Larry King who's standing by. Larry, what have you got?

LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": Well, at the top of the hour, Anderson, we'll have more reaction to the president's first-ever Oval Office address. How do you think he's handling the oil crisis? We'll talk to James Carville, country star Sammy Kershaw, Senator Mary Landrieu, and legendary oilman T. Boone Pickens. That's all at the top of the hour on "LARRY KING LIVE" -- Anderson.

COOPER: Larry, thanks very much. We've got a lot more coming up. Our coverage continues. We're going to take a quick break. We'll be back with Billy Nungesser and others. We'll be right back.


COOPER: Live picture of the White House now. The president after making his first address at the Oval Office. Eventually what you hear in Louisiana and other places where the oil is hitting, you don't hear much talk about politics. You hear talk about, you know, problems and solutions and trying to battle the oil.

In Washington, though, talk of politics is getting very heated tonight, particularly after now the president's address. The president made some comments. I want to play them for you and get some response. They're already being jumped on by Republicans. Michael Steele putting out a statement. Let's play what the president said.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For decades, we have known the days of cheap and easily accessible oil were numbered. For decades, we've talked and talked about the need to end America's century long addiction to fossil fuels. And for decades, we have failed to act with the sense of urgency that this challenge requires. Time and again, the path forward has been blocked. Not only by oil industry lobbyists but also by a lack of political courage and candor.


COOPER: Now, Mary Matalin, a lot of Republicans in Washington are saying that Democrats are trying -- some Democrats in D.C. are trying to use this as an opportunity to get -- ram through their energy policies.

MATALIN: Well, the operative word there is "some Democrats," political Democrats. This is a -- that is not candor and that's not political courage. He blames Bush for everything. He gives Bush no credit. We had the same philosophy, to reduce the dependence on foreign oil. This is a security measure. We passed an energy bill before 9 /11. We had all kinds of renewable sustainable cellulosic wind, all of that's in there. We're all for all of the above. We're offering nukes. Gave lip service to nukes. He didn't really guarantee any loans out there.

He would have a bill tomorrow if he would not have an economic wide carbon policy, if he restricted it to utilities who don't want it except they want certainty. There are things he could do if he wasn't just using it for a political issue. We are for all of the above, and we agree with him when he wants to expand nuclear capacity and traditional fossil fuels. But he talks and he doesn't do. He talks and he doesn't do. And to put politics in the speech was a big, big mistake.

COOPER: James, is he putting politics in this?


CARVILLE: First of all, I don't know what he said that anybody could possibly disagree with. The fact that oil is harder to get or the fact -- I mean, I have no idea. What he said to me sounded like any sane reasonable person would say.

Now, the other thing is he's been very, very consistent -- very, very consistent on this issue. Very consistent. This is not something that -- this is not a Johnny come lately thing. This is not trying to change the subject or anything like that. I mean, I -- I think it's fair to say, well you could have, you know said something tomorrow, whatever, but what I heard him say about it seems to me to be -- it's true. Oil is harder to get. And we're out there at 5,000 feet. There's no doubt about that. We are trying to get oil shale if we want to go in Alaska places. What he said was that.

BLITZER: I suspect that one of the statements that the president made tonight, potentially, Joe Johns could come back to haunt him. Saying in the coming days and weeks these efforts should capture up to 90 percent of the oil leaking out of the well. We all hope it's 90 percent if not 100 percent. But he's going out on a limb right now.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Well, sure he's going out on a limb but he doesn't have a whole lot to say as some of us mentioned here at this table earlier. The other thing about this politics, it is kind of a difficult situation for this president. The Republicans have been sending messages for a long time now, saying "don't try out your wish list on this thing." Keep what's going on in the gulf separate from the energy policy. And he walked right into it and he's going to hear about it.

BLITZER: Well, let's go to Capitol Hill. Dana Bash is standing by. Getting lots of reaction, Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN SR. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And you know, Republicans, you know, they almost have identical statements. And it's not too far off, not surprisingly from what we just heard from Mary. And that is that they are saying over and over again that the president -- two themes. First of all, that the president should not be from their perspective exploiting a crisis and pushing this climate change legislation which as you've discussed did take up a rather large portion of his speech. And also hitting what they think is a politically potent point that legislation they claim is job killing. Because at least in the House it had a tax that many Democrats who voted for it perhaps might regret it politically.

Now, on the Democratic side, you know, there were definitely was some wincing that I sensed in talking to Democrats after the speech about that particular part. For the most part, the Democrats who I've been talking to all day who were really hoping that the president gave them something in terms of -- of cover, frankly that the government is actually getting its act together, they're not sure that it got there. They say at least, one source I talked to said it was maybe a good start.

BLITZER: Gloria, the focus will shift tomorrow, the big meeting at the White House with the leadership of BP.

BORGER: The president has his enemy. He talked about it this evening. BP is going to pay. This is not the same president we heard earlier on in this crisis who was saying we're on the same side as BP here. We're working together.

JOHNS: He doesn't want to talk them down too much because if he drives them into bankruptcy, people get pennies on the dollar and everybody loses.

BORGER: That is over. But I will also tell you, Wolf, they're getting to take a quick turn. I've talked to two senior White House advisers today who would like to get energy policy through by the August recess.

BLITZER: Well, let's see.

BORGER: Good luck with that.

BLITZER: Yes, good luck. Then these BP executives go up to Capitol Hill, Candy, as you know Thursday, where they will be grilled.

CROWLEY: It will be a good punching bag week in terms of BP and putting those executives up here. In the end, anybody who thought that this speech and, first of all, would be devoid of politics, it's a political year, sorry, that's how it works. But anyone who thought this would turn around the president's fortunes is just in dreamland here. It has to be followed up by something happening in the gulf, something palpable. People down there, not saying, well, what about -- plug the leak, for heavens sake. Not that he can do it. But he's not going to get any mileage out of this unless it's followed by action.

KING: He can't answer the biggest questions, when will we stop the oil? When will those waters be clean enough to fish in again? What will the dispersants, the chemicals they're putting in the water on top of the oil do to the ecosystem, five years, 10 years, 20 years down the road? He can't answer those questions which makes it very hard for the president.

Wolf, the thing I watched most carefully here, is if the people out there make the decision they made about President Bush, whether it's fair or unfair, people made a decision after Katrina that the president and the government he led were not competent in their response. Now, there are people who would argue that's not fair. That's not right. That's the judgment the American people made. If they make that about this president, he's in trouble.

BLITZER: And we've now heard the words. Now we have to hear -- see the actions, Anderson. And people are going to be watching the immediate days ahead to see that action is in fact taken.

COOPER: Yes, Billy Nungesser, the president has not met with BP executives before. He's going to do that at the White House tomorrow. You have routinely met with BP executives. What's your advice for the president? How do you deal with them?

NUNGESSER: Well, we've got to hold their feet to the fire. They've got to learn to multitask. We need to stop the leak, clean up the oil, make the fishermen whole all at one time. Nothing is more important than the other thing. And we need to set up a panel or somebody has got to decide the dispersants was going to keep it from coming ashore. It's coming ashore underneath the surface where we can't see it. If it's not working, do we stop dispersants? Don't let BP make the decision. We need them (INAUDIBLE) people, do we let it come to the surface where we can see it and pick it up? Or do we keep letting them spray that stuff and making its disguise as it comes ashore?

COOPER: How much would you like to be a fly on the wall in that meeting tomorrow?

NUNGESSER: I would like to be there.

COOPER: No doubt about it, I'm sure.

Wolf Blitzer, let's go back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, we're not going to be inside the White House but we'll be watching very closely. We will, of course, cover the hearings on Thursday, when these BP executives are grilled by some very, very angry members of Congress. That will be very exciting, important, I suspect as well. That wraps up our special coverage of this hour. The president's address to the nation. His first from the Oval Office. This story though is not going away in CNN. We'll be over it.

Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. "LARRY KING LIVE" starts right now.