June 15th, 2010
01:35 PM ET
12 years ago

Obama vows to 'fight back with everything we've got'

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/06/15/art.obama.pensacola.jpg caption="President Obama said Tuesday that the federal government will 'fight back with everything we've got' to deal with the Gulf oil spill."]
Pensacola, Florida (CNN) - Road-testing the themes of his first-ever Oval Office address for a fired-up crowd of military personnel here in this beach town, President Obama declared the federal government will "fight back with everything we've got" to deal with the Gulf oil spill.

"Yes, this is an unprecedented environmental disaster," Obama said at the Pensacola Naval Air Technical Training Center. "It's the worst in our nation's history, but we're going to continue to meet it with an unprecedented federal response and recovery effort, the largest in our nation's history. This is an assault on our nation's shore, and we're going to fight back with everything we've got, and that includes mobilizing the resources of the greatest military in the world."

With Obama advisers privately telling CNN the President will unveil a specific battle plan on the way forward in his speech Tuesday night, Obama told the military personnel - some of whom have been helping contain the spill - that he's deployed over 5,000 vessels and more than 27,000 personnel to deal with the crisis and will spare no expense in the days ahead.

"I want the people of this region to know that my administration is going to do whatever it takes for as long as it takes to deal with this disaster, and that includes the additional actions I announced yesterday to make sure that seafood from the Gulf is safe to eat," said Obama. "It includes steps we've taken to ensure the safety of workers involved in cleanup and includes a new command structure to make sure states and communities like Pensacola have the autonomy and resources they need to go forward.

But in a sign of how difficult the President's task will be on Tuesday night, some people here are still not satisfied with the federal government's response. While only tar balls have been spotted on Pensacola Beach, which Obama toured earlier on Tuesday, locals believe it's a matter of days before large gobs of oil wash up on the shore so tourism is already starting to dwindle.

One restaurant owner along the beach near where Obama walked told CNN that his business has dropped 40 percent compared to this time last year, and the President's motorcade passed a litany of signs today demanding a more aggressive approach, ranging from "We Need Action, Not Words," to "Lead now!"

In a direct preview of tonight's speech, the President noted that while Pensacola is still open for business, "that doesn't mean that people aren't angry. That doesn't mean that people aren't scared."

He also hit what advisers say will be a major theme tonight, telling the military crowd that BP will be held accountable for the damages it has caused. "My administration is with you for the long haul, to make sure that BP pays for the damage it has done and to make sure you are getting the help you need to protect this beautiful coast," he said.

But check in with William "Buck" Lee, a fast-talking Floridian who runs Pensacola Beach as executive director of the Santa Rosa Island Authority, and you quickly find that local officials are still not sold on the notion that BP is the only party that needs to be held accountable.

"I was asked at our rotary meeting - who's at fault: BP or the federal government? Both of 'em," Lee told CNN during a tour of the white-sand beach with crystal-clear blue and green water that Obama saw up close.

Lee is upset that more than a month ago he asked the federal government to get him four tractors to help sift the sand once the oil arrives. But only one of the four tractors finally arrived on Monday afternoon - interestingly just a few hours before Obama arrived.

"They didn't tell us anything for 4 weeks," Lee told CNN. "They didn't tell us they approved it, but they didn't tell us they turned it down. So [they were] just sitting over there on hold so finally the word got through, we raised enough heck, they said, 'If it'll shut you up we'll get these things for you.'"

The most dramatic sign that people here are frustrated comes from the fact that several restaurants have written in their signboards on the main drag here near the beach, "Mr. President, Activate FEMA" - even though just a few years ago the emergency management agency was reviled for a slow response to Hurricane Katrina.

Obama officials stress that FEMA is already playing a coordinating role during the oil crisis and can not take on more responsibility because the President has consolidated power with Admiral Thad Allen, an arrangement that White House officials insist has worked.

But people like Lee are begging the President to bring FEMA in for a bigger role - just so they will have someone to turn to more directly. "If they brought in FEMA we could get what we need to keep our beach beautiful and work with FEMA," Lee said flatly. "Then FEMA chases down BP for the money."

Filed under: President Obama
soundoff (50 Responses)
  1. dAvid, CA

    maybe some of these "drill baby drill!" morons can be floated out there in the gulf to soak up the oil.

    June 15, 2010 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  2. Conservative Democrat

    I actually saw Rep. Barton on Bloomburg news this morning say that while the spill was BP's fault, it is up to the government to clean it up. He is one of those congressmen who is always screaming about big government and taxes, and how the government should leave private business alone. So Joe, tell us why the government shouldn't leave BP alone now and let them clean up their own mess, and, if the government is supposed to do it, where is the money coming from?

    June 15, 2010 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  3. doug

    I think when Obama said to put your boot on their neck, he was just telling his lib goons to assult all Americans who are not libs, it is in no way intented for a company who gave Obama more money than any other poltician over the last 20 years.

    Funny how every Democrat in America supports the Dem Congessman who assulted students for just respectfully asking a question. Ask yourself, what type of person supports this? Are you evil?

    June 15, 2010 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  4. BillE

    Line the beaches with republicans. They blow enough hot air to keep them free of oil for decades.

    June 15, 2010 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  5. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    I'm with our President, he can' go it alone so let's all stop whinning like babies and get some action. This is an opportunity for the unemployed as well as people who are innovative, like Kevin Costner.

    June 15, 2010 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  6. chaney,La

    This is a terrible mess but I dont think you are going to hear much praise for Obama, along the Gulf, mainly because these are 'rabid red' strongholds...

    June 15, 2010 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  7. gt

    maybe id he had not been on the campaign trail and entertaining paul mccarthy and been in the gulf 2 months ago all this might not have drag on and on and on.... a little to late,, to beat your chest and declare we are in a war,,,,

    June 15, 2010 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  8. Padraig

    What has he down up 'til today besides talk. This was a show of dismal leadership.

    June 15, 2010 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  9. Bill

    Talking head, They are still finding oil from the Exxon Valdeze. The reality is quite a bit different than what BO wants us to believe.

    June 15, 2010 03:04 pm at 3:04 pm |
  10. Enough

    It's just too bad we have NOTHING.

    June 15, 2010 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  11. JonDie

    "Obama: Iraq combat mission on schedule to end this summer"

    THE most worthless war every fought. More than 50,000+ dead or wounded U.S. soldiers. Almost a trillion dollars of deficits run up...and most of the "money" was transferred to the corporate supporters of Bush and Cheney. Bernie Madoff was a boy scout compared to Bush and Cheney. But we have no one to blame but ourselves.

    June 15, 2010 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  12. wake up

    this is the reason people complained about Ofraud having no experience. he has NO IDEA HOw to LEAD.
    Obama just blames and complains. Barack is a fraud.

    June 15, 2010 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  13. Ken

    Everything that happens is a "crisis" and an opportunity for this guy to "spare no expense". Seems the only opportunity Obama can see is the opportunity to grow the government and ensalve future generations to Federal Debt at every turn.

    June 15, 2010 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |

    Good get it done!!!!!! I still have faith in my vote Mr. Prez.......
    I'm not a flake or a fair weather voter...........I pray for this nation, that we wake up, and help, our elected officials........
    For almost 2 years, this President has been........ALONE.......much has been accomplished, and much more to go.......I love the under dog......America will survive these plagues, and emerge stronger.

    June 15, 2010 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  15. Samantha

    Obama is a master at blaming everybody and everything else for everything he and his administration are unable, or unwilling to do. The criticism that the Democrats hurled at George Bush after Katrina was fast and furious and yes, deserved. Now it is time for the Democrats, and their leader Obama to take the same criticism and repudiation that they hurled at Bush. Np excuses.

    June 15, 2010 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  16. Get A Grip

    2012 will be a great year when this guy is gone!

    June 15, 2010 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  17. TCM

    Obama's the epitomy of an endless infommericial.....what a loser!

    June 15, 2010 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  18. Nothing is too big to fail

    Fight back from what? This guy has got to go. He is constantly positioning himself for the next election, same thing he did while Senator (vote present)

    June 15, 2010 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  19. Darrell

    Now for you cowards who call the Pres. weak or blame him for this situation, I want you to know I am standing strong with the President. No he is not Ronald Reagan or GWB, than again that is why I supported him and continue to support.

    You idiots, and there appears to a lot of you contributing to this blog blaming and bad mouthing Obama, the is man is following the 1990 Oil Pollution Act, which states the private source, in this case BP, has the primary responsibility to clean and/or remove the spill. In this case, BP also has the expertise and experience as to deal with this mess, although sometimes I think they have neither one, not the federal government. So, the federal govt. and the Obama adm. must rely on BP to do its job.

    The adm. is doing what it is responsible for under the law...if you get a minute take Google it, Oil Pollution Act 1990, and read it...educate yourself for once.

    By the way, I don't see any of you fools with the expertise or experience, regarding how to clean up an oil spill, on the front lines helping out...instead you fools contribute cheap talk to blogs that is not worth a hill of beans.

    June 15, 2010 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  20. Dano

    How ironic that many of these same people who want "action not words" from the federal government were (and probably still are) griping about too much government in their lives from the other side of their mouths. So basically they're saying that when someone else needs help from the government it's socialism, but when they need it it's not?

    June 15, 2010 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  21. valwayne

    Its been 2 months and Obama's idea of fighting with everything we have seems to be a clean up crew that shows up when he's there for a photo op, and the disappears, or 1 of tractors that shows up just in time for another photo op. Does Obama think we don't see through this?

    June 15, 2010 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  22. GOP is bad for America

    Kudos to our President. How many times did President Bush (the first) visit the site of the Exxon Valdez oil disaster - that would be ZERO. How many times did President Bush meet with the CEO of Exxon - that would be ZERO. How many times did President Bush address the country regarding the Exxon Valdez oil disaster - that would be ZERO again. President Obama is doing everything he can considering that the U.S. Government is not the entity with the technology necessary to work on oil wells far beneath the sea. There are also thousands of people wanting things quickly and that is just pretty difficult to provide when it was an unexpected disaster the scope of which was not immediately known. Should our President work to do even better? Of course, he needs to keep up pressure to get people help in a timely manner.

    June 15, 2010 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  23. Marie MD

    Good job Mr. President. This is a national disaster. It just doesn't affect the Gulf States. We need to band together and stop the bickering.
    Go after BP for them to pay those fishermen who can't work right now. The oil rig workers can help clean up oil at the same pay.
    It's too late for most of the wildlife. Their lifes can't be bought with any amount of money!

    June 15, 2010 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  24. Augsbee

    I finally today I felt like I was listening to the President of the USA and not some guy who's worried about pleasing the rest of the world and his own legacy. For a minute I actually believe he liked our military. I think he is starting to realize that he and we all are the people of the USA, one American people regardless of color, size, heritage, etc... and all of our well beings must be his priority as he is our leader.

    June 15, 2010 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  25. snow

    Yep, the military was ordered to be there and as one can see, alot of them did not applaud at his pauses for applause and only applauded at the end when he was finally finished and they could leave his presence.

    June 15, 2010 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
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