Panel on Obama's Press Conference

Panel on Obama's Press Conference

By Special Report With Bret Baier - May 27, 2010


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: In case you are wondering who is responsible, I take responsibility. It is my job to make sure that everything is done to shut this down.

That doesn't mean it is going to be easy. It doesn't mean it's going to happen right away or the way I'd like it to happen. It doesn't mean that we're not going to make mistakes. But there shouldn't be confusion here. The federal government is fully engaged, and I'm fully engaged.


BAIER: President Obama at the end of his news conference today talking about this, the oil spill in the Gulf. That was the picture earlier today. And now we have word that BP has temporarily suspended pumping mud to stop the Gulf oil leak to try to assess the effect.

This right now we're told is a live picture of the robotic arm moving. We'll see what happens as they assess the latest about that top kill effort.

What about the president's statement today and all the things the administration is doing and not doing? Let's bring in our panel, Steve Hayes, senior writer for the Weekly Standard, Erin Billings, deputy editor of Roll Call, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I was stuck by the president after the last question emphasizing two points as if he wanted to check the boxes. And he looked to me and it seemed odd cross between Alexander Haig and Jimmy Carter. The first point he emphasized is I'm in charge here, which reminded me of when Al Haig stood up and said after Reagan was shot "I'm in charge here," and he wasn't. Really, Obama isn't in charge. In theory he is, but it's really out of his hands. It's all happening undersea.

And then he went on and said that he gave that anecdote about Malia knocking on his door in the morning and asking if the hole in the ocean had been capped, which reminded me of Jimmy Carter, the famous statement he made in the debate with Reagan which he said he had spoken with his daughter Amy, at the time age 12, and asked her what was the most important issue to her, and she said nuclear weapons, which earned the president the ridicule up to and including Election Day.

I'm sure it was a sincere anecdote but it's perhaps clear that President Obama had a meeting with President Clinton right before the press conference. You can almost hear the former president telling him to be human, be empathetic and sympathetic, and it looked as if this angle was designed for that.

Overall, it was an odd press conference. Why would he hold it for an event that's out of his control and for which he's getting a lot of hits? My calculation is he's a gambler. He was told there is two-third of a chance the top-kill working and if it works we'll know in a day or two, and he will look good. If it doesn't, he will be hit anyway, so why not have a presser and say I'm in charge?

BAIER: Erin, the emoting, the personal story that Charles talked about, happened at the end of more than an hour-long news conference.

ERIN BILLINGS, ROLL CALL: That's right. This is a president who is always cool as a cucumber. He doesn't really emote. That is a lot of time worked in his favor. He does not get too exercised and he doesn't show too much emotion as we say.

But in this particular instance, when you have people who are, you know, James Carville saying we're dying down here, I think the president had to deliver some emotion. But you're right, he waited until the very last minute.

It was a good closer, but taking it in totality, you know, this is a 63-minute press conference and it took the last five minutes to say I feel your pain.

BAIER: He also said, Steve, he was asked about the head of the minerals management service, MMS, Elizabeth Birnbaum, who was let go, resigned according to the Interior Department, others say she was fired. And it happened early in the day, in the morning. We got word about it. And he was asked about it. Take a listen to this.


OBAMA: Miss Birnbaum, I found out about her resignation today. Ken Salazar has been in testimony throughout the day. So I don't know the circumstances in which it occurred.

REPORTER: I'm curious how it is you didn't know about Miss Birnbaum's resignation/firing.

OBAMA: You are assuming it was a firing. If it was a resignation, then she would have submitted a letter to Mr. Salazar this morning at a time when I had a whole bunch of other stuff going on.


BAIER: He did have a lot of stuff going on, but one of them was the Duke Basketball team visiting the rose garden. What about that before a big news conference?

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: The news conference lasted a little over an hour, and the purpose of the news conference was showing the president being in charge and taking responsibility.

At one point he explained the difference between the federal government and BP and who was paying the 20,000 people down there working. He was in the weeds. That was the point. He was in charge.

And then he doesn't know that the woman running the organization that he spent a good bit of time, you know, both before the press conference and today blaming for this, the lax oversight from MMS, that he doesn't know that she was either fired or resigned I think undercut the entire news conference.

And it's why the New York Times reporter stood up and said how could you not possibly know that? How can you be telling us that you are in charge and you didn't know that very basic and important fact?

BAIER: Where does this go from here, Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: Look, I think it all hinges on serendipity from the president's perspective. If the capping operation succeeds, then he'll take a lot of heat over the big clean-up, but particularly since it would come right after he stood up there and said I'm in charge, I think he will be politically OK.

If it doesn't, and we have to wait until August, when the relief wells will presumably be completed, then he is going to be savaged. It's going to be his Katrina politically.

BAIER: But even if they cap the thing and it stops flowing, you still have, Erin, the pictures of the birds and the turtles and all the marshlands down in the Gulf coast being covered by oil.

BILLINGS: This is the beginning, not the end. He went out on this PR offensive today and again tomorrow. But he is going to have to continue doing it, not just Ken Salazar, not Janet Napolitano, not Thad Allen. He has to go out and do it himself. He has to show that this is a priority to him. He can't just say it's a priority.

And you're right. We are talking economic, ecological, and political impact here.

BAIER: And quickly, the moratorium, the six-month extension on a halt of all of the...

HAYES: Yes, I think we expected he would do that. I think he's pleasing his left wing base.

But I disagree with both of them. I think the political problems are just starting. I think he cannot possibly go out now because it will only highlight by contrast, by way of contrast, how little he was out before in front of the situation.


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