June 15th, 2010
01:35 PM ET
11 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. Mike

    The way obama fights back it's good he wasn't President during WWII, or we'd all be speaking German or Japanese. At day 57 I guess he finally got a look at his approval rating.

    June 15, 2010 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  2. Hammerer

    All talk and no action. The same old story– read from the teleprompter other people's ideas. obama has no thoughts of his own.

    June 15, 2010 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  3. Lynda/Minnesota

    Well, at least THIS president didn't deck himself out in scubba gear while pandering next to a MISSION ACCOMPLISHED banner.

    An improvement, yes?

    June 15, 2010 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  4. MatthewDetroit

    Barack the Weasal is very good at making BP look evil and bad....

    But he wont say a bad word about terrorists......

    Barack is a wimp and a joke....

    Now SIR CHAVEZ BARACK wants to nationalize the oil companies...
    Keep trying Barack you socialist....Just like Chavez and Putin.....

    Steal the money from private industry and poor it into the common man....You are a socialist Barack....

    BP should pay for the CLEANUP after it is all over.....NOT set up a big welfare state to be taxed by the US and then give to whom he wants...

    BARACK would find a way to give ACORN money from BP...

    June 15, 2010 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  5. GI Joe

    But but but but....

    THEY want small government staying out of their business. THEY don't want the government taking over ANYTHING - just listen to them.

    June 15, 2010 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  6. GI Joe

    Again – the profits go to a few states (privatized so to speak), but THEY want the expenses to be spread over 50 states (socialized so to speak.

    THEY THEY THEY THEY – why aren't THEY yelling NO NO NO NO NO on this one?

    June 15, 2010 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  7. thor

    Obama is drowing in a sea of oil !!There has been no leadership shown in this disaster.The skills that helped him get elected as president are missing now.It's just a matter of time before people realize this man couldn't handle the resposibilities that come with being president of this great nation .

    June 15, 2010 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  8. sensible Cape Coral Fl

    Does "fighting back with everything we've got" mean cooperation from the Republicans? Ha Ha Ha

    June 15, 2010 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  9. snow

    Yep he will spend every dime he can beg,borrow or steal from future generations to try and make himself appear Presidential. Sorry, all the money in the world will not make him Presidential. The only hope is in 2012 his title will be former President.

    June 15, 2010 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  10. 60s survivor

    while so many continue flapping their jaws from the comforts of their sideline position. the president has been. along with many others. dealing with this huge environmental disaster. if you can't do something positive. just sit down. you obviously aren't necessay.

    June 15, 2010 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  11. File under "Sarcasm"

    NIce photo op sticking the military personnel behind the Campaigner in Chief. I wonder if they had to be pulled away from oil spill duties or from their off shift when they should be home sleeping.

    June 15, 2010 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  12. annie

    Good we should fight back...just as long as BP picks up the tab.

    My fear is they will pass the costs off to the global consumers who
    will end up be you and I and any other governmental agency.

    The costs should also include lost of habitat, loss of jobs, and costs
    for hidden medical issues that will arise over the next decade for being withiin breathing area of the toxins.

    June 15, 2010 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  13. obama victim

    well he has surrendered to everyone else....the first "president" ever to surrender to an ocean

    June 15, 2010 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  14. canadah

    the leak could have been completely contained and siphoned to waiting ships at the top weeks ago. nobody is going to listen so...what you got is what you got...continue to stumble your way through. All this aside...the biggest problem is Politics, big business, sub-contractors, and of course the ultimate failure – the Blow Out Preventer designer and developer.
    As is always the case, the 'great minds' that rape the earth for profit know little or nothing about real life. Governments, Military, Big business and their consorts destroy continuously and look to people like Gore to make the average person responsible to clean up after them as THEY continue to destroy. The meek shall inherit the earth.

    June 15, 2010 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  15. A.B.

    The first thing President Obama should do is set up an escrow account and order BP to contribute $20 million or more dollars into it. The federal government should oversee and administer the fund to reinburse people and communities affected by the BP oil spill and another fund should be established for financing the clean up. All of this should be done before BP files for Bankrupcy. The federal government should also place most of BP's American assets in receivership for collateral as the funds are being established and financing details are being worked out.

    June 15, 2010 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  16. File under "Sarcasm"

    Sounds good that Obama has "deployed over 5,000 vessels and more than 27,000 personnel to deal with the crisis". I'll bet most of those were arranged by BP and he's just taking credit as the US Navy only has about 300 ships and I doubt any of those are skimming or boom ships.

    June 15, 2010 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  17. glib lib

    Funny how people want smaller goverbment. They want the feds to take a step back and leave them and their families alone. They want the govt. out of health care, out of financial regulation, out of the housing market. That is, of course, unless they are the ones in trouble. I live in this region and I can tell you, the vast majority of people who want the governments help right now, are the same ones who complain when the government gets involved with anything. How does that conservative/libertarian montra go? "I'm fine, screw you. I'm screwed, help me!"

    June 15, 2010 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
  18. Nom Deplume, Esq.

    Does he plan to invade England and nationalize BP?

    June 15, 2010 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
  19. Victim of GOP Taliban

    Stop blaming Obama for every little thing to score political "points". Either volunteer YOUR time or $ to help with clean-up/animal rescue or don"t complain. Gee former Gulf state Senators "retired" to go work directly for the Big Oil lobbies and 1/2 the Fed judges get hand me downs...who knew something like this would happen.

    June 15, 2010 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  20. Chad from Tampa

    57 days too late dude, sorry.

    June 15, 2010 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
  21. Big George in Big D

    He doesn't know what he's doing – that's a given. Words?? What will they do?

    June 15, 2010 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
  22. Enough

    And just what does that mean? Sounds like more empty words from the naive and weak empty suit. Too bad he turned down the help that was offered just 3 days after the explosion.....now he is out there begging for it. This disaster is worse due to Obamas inaction..........too busy campaigning for Barbara Boxer.

    June 15, 2010 02:38 pm at 2:38 pm |
  23. Randolph Carter, I'm no expert but...

    Because if there's one thing Obama is, it's a fighter. Remember how he fought for a robust public option? Remember how he fought the military-industrial complex and ended those expensive, pointless wars? Or when he fought Wall Street lobbyists and got all those strong financial reforms passed? Or when he got congress to close all of the tax loopholes that allowed GE to pay no income tax (not a typo, it's true) last year?

    Oh, wait....

    Have a nice day!

    June 15, 2010 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  24. Mark from Louisiana

    President Obama doesn't like the fact that the Gulf oil spill reminds people of Hurricane Katrina, since the public response to that catastrophe hastened the decline of his predecessor's standing. He'd prefer that the American people be reminded of something else - something that rallied people around their president.

    And so he told Politico over the weekend that the oil spill has "echoes of 9/11."

    Americans thought differently about "our vulnerabilities" after the events of 9/11, Obama said, and the oil spill is "going to shape how we think about the environment and energy for many years to come."

    This is, not to put too fine a point on it, one of the most bizarre things ever said by any president.

    It is worth considering the meaning of this profoundly wrongheaded analogy tonight when the president delivers his first Oval Office address - his latest attempt to minimize the political damage the oil spill is wreaking on his reputation.

    The first thing that needs to be said is this: The only thing the oil spill and 9/11 have in common is nothing.

    June 15, 2010 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  25. Jerry

    Sorry but there is no everything we have got, you spent it

    June 15, 2010 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
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