Live Blogging Obama’s Press Conference

Well, my live “streaming” video here in the hills of Ripton is more like an intermittent stream, so I’ll be limited in commenting on the video, although I have the audio going.

He’s on – expect the opening statement to stress what the government has done so far.

Here’s the expected attack on Big Oil.  And here’s the expected distancing of his administration of the failure of the Minerals oversight agency (MMS – Minerals Management Service).

And here’s the litany of things he’s done to react to lax regulation, weak agency, etc….so far, no surprises.

BP must be wondering what they got for targeting Obama as their number one beneficiary of campaign donations…

And here’s the understandable “leave the door open” to future off shore drilling.  Moratorium does not mean ending off shore drilling.

“We are going to stop it.”  Who, exactly is the “we”?

He doesn’t care about politics?  Then why is he giving his first press conference in 10 months!  Politics!

Ok, let the fun begin!  Questions!  (Note that I can’t see who is asking the questions, so bear with me).

Question 1:  Summary – We have been on top of this (i.e., this is NOT KATRINA!  REPEAT AFTER ME!)

Obama talking about “the agencies under his charge” – note that this is one reason presidents are too often assumed to be in charge of the government bureaucracy – they talk as if they are!

The issue, according to critics, is not whether the federal government has the capacity to stop the leak – it’s whether it responded quickly enough to contain the spill.  That’s the question local and state officials are raising. So far he hasn’t addressed that…

Ah, now he’s addressing it.   (note that we are about 10 minutes into this conference and he’s taken exactly one question.)  (Is it me, or does it sound like  he’s calling the Coast Guard commandant “Fat” Allen? [It's actually Thad] Ho, ho, ho!)

Question 2. (Jake Tapper – ABC – I think):  Good question Jake!   To the point, specific, factual.    And Obama’s response is a reminder of how much presidents are at the mercy of their advisers.   Here, he has to rely on the input of the Army Corps of Engineers to determine the tradeoffs in  creating barriers to stem the flow of oil into coastland areas.   What does Obama know about barriers?  About what Bush knew about levees.  Obama’s struggling a bit here, preferring to deal with generalities rather than respond directly to Tapper’s specifics, and you can’t blame him.

Question 3:  Chuck (I have disdain for you) Todd:  Back to the offshore issue and the relative roles of BP and the government.  And he slips in a Katrina question! Confident that history will judge that we’re  “on top of an unprecedented crisis” – is this his own “Heckuva job, Brownie” moment?  Get ready for the campaign ads….

Not a great answer to the first part of Todd’s question, but there’s not much more that Obama can say except his version of Bush’s “we’re working hard”.

Obama has to walk a tightrope here – on the one hand, he wants to show that the federal government is in charge, especially of the cleanup, but also to shift responsiblity for failures to BP.   We’ re in charge, but not really.

Question 4.   Same theme: “Were you really acting from Day 1 on a worst case scenario”….. the press is doing a really good job here of staying on point and following up on questions. Kudos to them…

Obama, “I am very confident the federal government has acted…with a sense of urgency.”   Local and state officials will disagree.  And again, the effort to shift blame to the pre-Obama role of the permitting process, particularly the role of the MMS.  And a subtle jab at Congress’ role in effectively gutting the environmental waiver requirement.   Obama is making good points here, but it’s not clear they are very useful politically – people just want the oil to stop reaching the coast.

Question Six (I think – don’t hold me to these numbers)  – Chip Reid.   Do you blame the Bush administration?  Obama again accepts responsibility and at the same time blames the previous administration.  In effect, I inherited a bad situation and tried to reverse it, but might have done so more effectively.

Again, subtleties that may or may not play politically.   Sure didn’t help Bush.

Question 7.  Easy question – let’s point the finger at BP!  Everyone hates Big Oil.   A nicely worded response by Obama.

Question 8.   (I hope I didn’t miss a question – had to step out. I think this is Helen Thomas – leave it to her to change topics.)

Question 9. NY Times:    Back to oil drilling.  Another great question. Does Obama regret calling for expanding offshore drilling if he knew MMS (Minerals Management Service) was corrupt/lax in regulating drilling?   Obama admits he was wrong in thinking oil companies could handle this type of accident, but in the same breath admits that it was an unprecedented oil spill.

She persists -follow up on the cleaning up Minerals Management Service, and a question on whether Obama knew about “firing” of Birnbaum (she’s an MMS official, but not the highest up).

How likely that Obama doesn’t know whether Birnbaum has been fired, or simply resigned?  Not likely at all – he’s likely obfuscating here and will leave it to Salazar to take the heat.

as for the permitting, let’s wait until the study is done.

I must say that the media seems on top of their game at this press conference, and I have to believe that part of that stems from a subtle resentment against Obama for shutting them  out so long.  There’s a real edge to their questions, and they are pushing the follow up much more than they did in previous  press conferences.  The worm may have turned here in terms of presidential-press relations.

Question 10 – Decision to send national guard to the border.  He’ll be expecting this and should have the response ready.   And he does…. a chance to reaffirm his opposition to the Arizona law while signaling, via the sending of the Guard, that he understands the sentiment that motivated it.   And it gives him a chance to plug comprehensive immigration reform…..

Still waiting for the Sestak question!

Final Question – and it turns into four questions!   And here’s the Sestak question!  Obama dodges it – very, very curious response!  Why not simply come out with an answer?  Probably because they don’t want Youtube videos of Obama providing the response – let someone else be the bearer of politically sensitive news.

As for the “boot on the neck” comment – shift the blame there to Salazar.  nicely done.

An Amy Carter moment!  (Students – ask your parents about how Jimmy Carter brought his daughter into the debate with Reagan regarding nuclear weapons.)

A chance for Obama to finish on key:  “I care”.   The target here is the Gulf Coast voters.  The question is whether anything short of actually stopping oil from reaching the coast is going to sell here.  I suspect not.

And here he steps up to the plate to take responsibility.  I’m actually surprised by this statement, but it is an indication that he realizes at this point in the spill there’s no way he can avoid taking some responsibility for the failure at least on the cleanup side.

Summary:  I’ll be curious how the talking heads play this, but I was impressed with Obama’s performance.  He was candid, upfront with the failings of his government, and generally avoided missteps.  But I was equally impressed with the media.  They were on their game – asked pointed questions, didn’t let Obama evade answers,  and generally showed a vigor I haven’t seen from them toward Obama before.

I suspect he’ll get some pushback on his claim not to know whether Elizabeth Birnbaum, the MMS official was fired or not, and on whether he did enough to clean up that agency, and on backtracking but not ending offshore drilling.   And he totally punted on Sestak – very curious there.

But this is a reminder that press conferences – even under the current format – can be a useful exercise.  Let’s hope Obama doesn’t wait 10 months for the next one.

I realize this is the middle of the day and short notice,  but if you have thoughts, send them along….I’ll update with the media roundup later tonight…..

3 comments

  1. George,

    My guess is you are new to the site. Welcome! Periodically we live blog – typically with audience participation – newsworthy events, such as press conferences and speeches. The goal is to give a running commentary from the perspective of the average citizen who might also be watching. Obviously this type of instant analysis doesn’t lend itself to the in-depth research we (me and those who comment) try to bring to other topics, when we actually have time to get into the topic. On the other hand, the live blogs are a chance to have some fun and, I hope, to make some useful if off the cuff observations. Typically we get more participation in these sessions but this was a last minute decision to live blog a middle-of-the-day event. People with any sense are doing more productive things, like working. Or grading papers. Which is where I’m headed.

    Stick around. You’ll get your share of social science on this site. Trust me. (Or don’t – just look at previous posts). And try submitting some comments yourself. Note that banal comments are more than welcome!

    matt

  2. George – I apologize if my tone sounds condescending. I certainly don’t know enough to justify adopting that attitude! And you are undoubtedly correct that many of my posts aren’t much more than one might get from a well-informed (or perhaps not well informed) columnist. In areas where the political science literature is thin (which, alas, is many more than I’d like) I am often forced to write more impressionistically than I’d like. But you shouldn’t sit back and suffer through mediocre posts by me – you should call me on it. In fact you just did. However, why not do so more directly, in the context of a specific posting. Some of the best exchanges (and some of my better posts) come in response to readers’ comments, many of them critical. This is an open forum, with all input welcome. If you can raise the level of discourse here, by all means do so – we’ve a great set of regular posters here, and I learn from all of them. I can’t promise that I’ll always match the quality of the comments, but I’ll give it a shot.

    As for posting less frequently (but perhaps more in depth) – you’ll see that happen quite frequently when I’m on deadline on a book chapter or article. I’ve gone weeks without posting. Invariably I am asked: why aren’t you posting more? I’m sure there’s a happy medium there somewhere. I trust you and other readers to let me know where it is.

    Matt

  3. The Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are asking Atty. Gen. Holder to investigate the Sestak job offer, so I’m guessing Pres. Obama punted that question for legal reasons, to say nothing of political ones.

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