Press Gaggle by Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton, 5/26/10
3:40 P.M. EDT
MR. BURTON: The President has been receiving regular briefings about what’s happening on the Gulf from Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina, who’s been receiving information on the ground from Carol Browner. As you know, all eyes are on what’s happening in the Gulf today. Secretary Chu is in Houston at the command center, and we're receiving information as quickly as it can come. But for the public information and briefings and that sort of thing I would point you guys to Robert, Louisiana, the JIC, where -- the Joint Information Center -- you’ll be able to get more information on what’s happening as they’re ready to put it out.
Q So he’s receiving regular briefings. Can you give us just a flavor of what they’re telling him?
MR. BURTON: They’re just basically -- not being a scientist or expert, I don't want to get into the details because I get in over my depth frequently, but they’re basically just giving him some of the information about what’s happening underground and what’s happening above -- at sea level to mitigate the leak.
Q Have they said when they expect to announce whether or not the top kill is a success?
MR. BURTON: Not that I've heard. But for that sort of thing I would point you to Robert [Louisiana].
Q Has he been updated on top kill and how it’s going?
MR. BURTON: Yes.
Q What’s the status of that?
Q Could you repeat the question?
MR. BURTON: I'm sorry, just to repeat some of the questions, because people have been asking about what’s the status of top kill, has he received information on top kill. He has been receiving information on top kill. For information about what’s happening and the latest public information that's available, we're pointing folks down to Robert, Louisiana, where they’ll be releasing information.
Q Would you characterize his level of frustration as growing, steady, or declining with BP and the cleanup?
MR. BURTON: I would say that his level of frustration is very high and that every moment that that hole is not plugged the President has a deep level of concern. And obviously this has been an all-hands-on-deck approach to what has been a pretty big catastrophe and he’s going to continue to do everything that we can and bring in the best and brightest minds to figure out different ways that we can address this until the hole is plugged and until we’ve mitigated the environmental disaster in and on the water.
Q Do you know if the President has a reaction or is upset by the fact that the initial efforts were designed to stop the leak by recovering the oil, as opposed to, say, just plugging it up?
MR. BURTON: I'm sorry, say that again.
Q Is he frustrated by the fact that initial recovery attempts that have all failed were designed more around recovering the oil as it was being spilled, rather than just plugging the hole up?
MR. BURTON: I don't know that I would necessarily agree with that characterization, as from the beginning the goal has been to stop the oil from leaking from the bottom of the ocean and to clean up and mitigate any effects that oil was going to have on land. We’ve got a thousand government personnel down there; there are Coast Guard ships and helicopters and a wide variety of assets that are going into taking care of those two very key problems.
Q Bill, you’ve made a big point of emphasizing the fact that Secretary Chu and the President have been having regular chats. What is Secretary Chu’s view of the top kill option and its potential for success?
MR. BURTON: Well, I don't want to get into characterizing Secretary Chu and what he thinks about the science behind this, but obviously the government signed off on moving forward on this and we're all hoping for the best.
Q -- details on Friday?
MR. BURTON: On Friday -- and I know the pool report said that I would have details, even though I said I would check on details -- and the latest is that --
Q I said they were expected. (Laughter.)
MR. BURTON: It said I would have details. That's Carol Lee, the pool -- (laughter.) However, the advance team has put together a sketch but they’re just now getting people on the ground to figure out exactly where he’s going to go. It’s safe to say that he is going to go and see the coast and see a lot of the people who are working on this. But unfortunately I don't have a lot of details other than to tell you he’s going to leave Chicago Friday morning and head down there.
Q Any sense of like who he’ll meet with or any of that?
MR. BURTON: Unfortunately not. Some of the main players you can guess who they’ll be, but I'm not in a position to release anything right now just because it’s not finalized just yet.
Q What about Thursday? Tomorrow? What about tomorrow’s statement?
MR. BURTON: Oh, in terms of tomorrow, as you all have reported, the President will talk a little bit about the Interior report and lay out some new thoughts on how to proceed on drilling.
Q -- Salazar? I know he hasn’t seen the actual report, but they’ve had conversations. Has he gotten some indication of what this report is going to say? If he’s making recommendations tomorrow you’ve got to assume he knows where this is going.
MR. BURTON: They’ve been in contact with each other, but in terms of the substance of those conversations and how detailed he’s gotten about this, I'm not a hundred percent sure. They’ve been in contact, but I can't tell you the level of granularity on the report that he’s going to receive.
Q Do you know how specific the President is going to get tomorrow in terms of his recommendations? Will we be able to get specifics, or is this kind of raw and suggestions?\
MR. BURTON: This will be -- there will be some news to it. I'm not going to get into what it is.
Q How might whatever these suggestions are affect the energy policy which he discussed today?
MR. BURTON: Well, obviously as the President had said, we've seen some of the devastating costs of getting our energy from oil and from other such fossil fuels. But the President’s view is that we have to take a comprehensive approach to this. He’s talked about the need for a comprehensive energy strategy -- he talked about it yesterday when he was with Senate Republicans. And there’s been a lot of work on very good proposals, and the President is hopeful that with some of those proposals that are currently in the Senate, we’ll be able to move forward and get the American people the kind of energy policy they deserve.
Q How involved is the administration in coming up with other plans if top kill doesn’t work? What role does the administration have?
MR. BURTON: Well, we're in very close contact with the folks who are trying to plug this hole, and Secretary Chu -- I'm sorry, Jackie, did you hear the question? Jackie had her hand up. We've been in close contact with the folks who are trying to plug this hole. Secretary Chu has been down there with a team of scientists consulting, working with the folks at BP and the other people who are on the ground to think of new ways to mitigate this disaster. So I would say that to the extent possible we're very involved in, putting all hands on deck, all lines to this task to make it stop.
Q How many other options are being considered now? I mean, what are we looking at -- half a dozen or something?
MR. BURTON: I'd be hesitant to get into how many options are actually being discussed and considered because I'm not there and I just don't have the latest information. But I would just point you down to the folks in Louisiana who would have more information.
Q Bill, you may have answered this, but when will we know if top kill is successful?
MR. BURTON: I think the answer to that is -- and again, I’d point you to the people who are the experts on this down in the Gulf right now. Essentially there’s a lot of moving pieces to this. They’ve got separate pipes that are going down with separate functions and as they measure what’s coming in and what’s going out and the pressure and all that, I think that it’s just a matter of getting the best possible information to figure out whether this is working or whether it’s not. But the experts are down in the Gulf and I’d point you down there for more information.
Q Do you expect to know today or by the time the President goes on Friday?
MR. BURTON: I'm not sure.
Q Back on climate change legislation. The President said today he thinks he can get that done by the end of year -- I mean, are you confident that you’ll get that done by the end of the year? Is that the goal? Do you think Congress will be able to do that?
MR. BURTON: The President wants to get this done as soon as humanly possible. And just like he told Republicans yesterday, he thinks a lot of hard work has already been done on this, especially by senators like Kerry and Lieberman, with some hard work from Lindsey Graham as well. And if we all -- the President’s view is that if we put our shoulder to this and we put politics aside so that we can move the policy that our country so desperately needs, then we'll be able to get it done sooner than later.
Q By the end of the year?
MR. BURTON: As soon as possible.
Q What role does offshore drilling play in that process going forward? I mean, clearly the game has changed a little bit because of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
MR. BURTON: There’s no doubt that that's the very serious backdrop against which an energy policy would be made, but there are currently reviews underway to determine what happened here in this case, what the safest ways going forward will be. Obviously there’s the commission that the President created as well to figure out some of these questions. So without prejudging the outcomes of any of that, I would say that it’s obviously an important part of the discussion.
Q Without prejudging that, if you want to get this bill passed before the end of the year, that’s probably going to happen before any conclusions come out of the commission. I mean, I don't know how long -- what your deadline is for the commission’s results, but clearly there have to be some conclusions made within the administration before that.
MR. BURTON: I think it’s fair to say that people are looking at and figuring out the best way forward on oil policy. That's why you’ve seen the Department of Interior already act as it relates to permits and already act as it relates to some safety checks and things like that. So, yes, I think you're right that there will be action before all the conclusions have been come to, but I think that there’s a process in place and we're watching that play itself out.
Q Action in terms of?
MR. BURTON: I'm sorry?
Q When you say you think there will be action, what do you mean?
MR. BURTON: I mean the President wants to move forward on energy policy as soon as we can.
Q What about cleaning house at MMS?
MR. BURTON: I'd point you to Interior.
Q Bill, are there contingency plans -- if the report comes out tomorrow and it says we need to continue this moratorium on new drilling past the 30-day deadline, are there contingency plans for what happens to these leases that are supposed to come online later this summer?
MR. BURTON: I would say that that’s dangerously close to a hypothetical that I wouldn't get into before we see what happens tomorrow.
Q But if he -- it’s not really a hypothetical. I mean, this could go one of two ways -- Salazar could come back tomorrow and say, okay, we figured out what the problem is, we can continue on; or he could come back and whatever the recommendations are, say we have to halt this. So --
MR. BURTON: When the word “could” is in the question it’s my textbook definition of a hypothetical.
Q Well, you know what I'm saying, though. I mean --
MR. BURTON: I hear what you're saying and I think that people will react to the report accordingly. (Laughter.)
Q Can I switch topics for a second? Republicans are -- some Republicans are calling for Attorney General Holder to look into Congressman Sestak’s claim that the White House offered him a job to get out of the race. Would that be something that the White House would be supportive of?
MR. BURTON: I saw that report just before we took off, but I don't have anything for you on it.
Q Are you interested in having that looked into by the Justice Department? Do you think it’s worth looking into by the Justice Department? Is that something that you --
MR. BURTON: Like I said, I saw the report but I don't have anything new for you.
Q What’s he going to do in Chicago on Saturday and Sunday?
MR. BURTON: What’s he going to do? He’s going to hang out with his family and friends and enjoy one of America’s great cities.
Q Hockey game?
MR. BURTON: I would say that there is no public schedule for that day.
Q He hasn’t been back in a long time. I mean, has he talked about how he feels about returning with the whole family after a year and a couple of months?
MR. BURTON: Yes, I think he’s obviously excited to get back to Chicago. If it were up to him, he’d be able to spend a lot more time there, but the pressures of the job keep him in Washington quite a bit. But, no, he really is looking forward to it. It’s a great city where he has a lot of great friends and he really can't wait to get there.
Q Can you give us any kind of a preview of his meeting with the President of Liberia tomorrow? That's tomorrow, right?
MR. BURTON: No, sorry.
Q Can you say whether or not the President is talking to the Prime Minister of Japan at all today about the base?
MR. BURTON: Not that I've heard.
Q Any plans for him to talk to him today? Because we heard that there was going to be a conversation today.
MR. BURTON: Not that I've heard.
Q Can you give any details, Bill, about what his meetings with Netanyahu will discuss next week?
MR. BURTON: I think that it would be safe to say that they’re going to have a long talk about where we are in the process, where we are in proximity talks, and what the best way forward is. But in terms of specific substance and detail I don't have much for you. That was just announced earlier today with Rahm in Israel. So we will definitely keep you posted on what we hope to discuss and get out of that meeting.
Q Has the President talked to Rahm about his visit?
MR. BURTON: I don't know for sure.
Q How close is Obama to picking a new DNI?
MR. BURTON: I don't have any update for you on that.
Q Any follow-up to the National Guard going down to the Arizona border, any follow-up on that at all?
MR. BURTON: That was a part of the President’s commitment to making sure that we have secure borders. It’s something that he’s thought has been important over the last 16 months, and as he told Republican senators yesterday, he’s done a lot more in terms of enforcement and border security than had been done previously. So he’s going to continue those efforts. And again, like he told those Republican senators, any comprehensive immigration reform he thinks would include strong border security and enforcement of existing laws. So this is just one part of that.
Q Bill, one more back on the oil spill. You may have answered this one as well, but what does the President think, or what is he doing about the fact that it was his administration that approved this permit for BP to drill and expedited it without the -- making an exception from the environmental impact statements?
MR. BURTON: This is a question that has been talked about throughout this catastrophe. And obviously the President --
Q Maybe he’s talked about it today, recently.
MR. BURTON: -- talked about a lot of things today, recently. (Laughter.) This is a pretty big environmental catastrophe and it’s something that the President is deeply concerned about and feels a lot of sympathy for folks in the Gulf who are threatened by this tragedy. So he’s focused on plugging that hole and making sure that we clean up the mess. And then we'll focus on the best way forward as it relates to policy.
Q Apparently we've had a lot of offers of help from other countries and groups and they’ve all been-- or most have been turned down. Any reason why?
MR. BURTON: What are you referring to?
Q I don't have the specifics, but many other countries apparently have called offering help in terms of resources or expertise or anything like that and they say they’ve been turned away or saying, no, we don't need it.
MR. BURTON: What countries?
Q I don't -- I said I don't know the specific countries off the top of my head.
MR. BURTON: I'd be interested in hearing more on that.
Q Bill, has the President spoken with the chief executive of BP, Tony Hayward, directly since this crisis?
MR. BURTON: I don't know. I'll check.
Q Let me ask you something else about last night. The President was pretty strong against -- in talking about Republicans and what happened in that meeting. Was he frustrated with what was coming out of the Hill, what Republicans were saying? Where did that come from?
MR. BURTON: No, I would say we had a pretty good laugh about it on Air Force One, actually, to read some of the press reports of how hot and tense people described this meeting as. I think even as Senator Cornyn said, it was not that hot or tense of a meeting. People went in there, they asked questions, there was a good exchange, it was pretty civil. I mean, I think maybe -- like Senator Corker, for example, maybe his heart was racing a little fast when he was talking to the President, but it was not an exchange where anybody thought it was particularly tense.
So when you saw the President talking about that meeting and bipartisanship last night, it was just an extension of taking a look at some of what had come out and making the point that maybe we just have a different definition of bipartisanship. To the President, bipartisanship isn’t just making deals for the sake of making deals so you can call something bipartisanship. He always said that -- and he said this in the meeting yesterday -- he would have loved to have gotten 70 or 80 votes on financial regulatory reform in the Senate, but he wasn’t going to do it at the cost of watering down that bill.
Q When you said you were laughing, who was laughing? Who was “we”? You, him?
MR. BURTON: I was just talking about a conversation I had with the President where we were laughing.
Q And it was decided that he was going to address it in the way he did when you were -- like on the flight, or when did you --
MR. BURTON: Without getting into how it all came about, he decided he wanted -- he was going to talk about it and he just did. That part of it wasn’t that premeditated; he just talked a little bit.
Q So if it wasn’t so tense, why the sarcasm as in “warm and cuddly,” and the laughter in his speech? He said very sarcastically, it was warm and cuddly.
MR. BURTON: Okay, if we have a matrix of “warm and cuddly” to “hot and tense,” and where it all laid -- this wasn’t like he was going to his Bible study or something like that with all of his neighbors. It was a meeting with the opposition party, right? So there was applause when he left. People thought that it was a productive exchange. The President certainly did. And he’s going to keep talking to Republicans because he thinks that no one party has a monopoly on good ideas and he’s going to keep going to Republicans and getting their input.
But again, he’s not going to make a bill bipartisan at the cost of making it weaker for the American people.
Q Would you characterize the applause as enthusiastic or tepid? (Laughter.)
MR. BURTON: Super psyched. (Laughter.)
Q There were moments in the televised meeting with the House Republicans where it was sort of tense and he gave as good as he got, even though it was all very polite. How would you compare the meeting with the Senate Republicans in terms of the one to the House Republicans’ meeting that was -- the televised meeting to the --
MR. BURTON: It was kind of a different meeting just in the sense that the House Republican meeting was so much bigger. This meeting yesterday was a much more intimate affair. There were about 35 or so senators, couple members of staff, as opposed to a couple hundred Republicans at the other meeting.
But I would say that the tone was pretty similar -- pretty civil, pretty good exchange, moments of disagreement but nothing that was particularly hot or --
Q Did he want it to be leaked to the press?
MR. BURTON: Yes.
Q -- ask to open it up and who said no?
MR. BURTON: I don't know who had the conversations but we did want it to be open and they didn’t want it to be open. And frankly, obviously we wish it would have been open so that you guys could have all just seen it and then we could just talk about some of the exchanges, as opposed to what those guys said on the way out, what I've got to say to help correct the record.
Q McConnell’s office says that they weren’t contacted about it.
MR. BURTON: Okay.
Q Could you find out who you guys reached out to?
Q Anything else we should be asking? (Laughter.)
MR. BURTON: This is a record for gaggles. (Laughter.)
Q Twenty-one minutes.
Q We outlasted Burton -- Burton outlasted us -- excuse me.
MR. BURTON: Okay. Thank you all for coming.
4:01 P.M. EDT