Aboard Air Force One En Route Andrews Air Force Base–(ENEWSPF)–June 15, 2010 – 12:45 P.M. EDT
MR. BURTON: I figured since there’s a lot of this that it’s just going to get kicked to the afternoon briefing — we’ll just do this right now and — fire away.
Q On Petraeus collapsing in the Senate hearing, has the President been informed, do you guys know about it, has he talked to Petraeus? What’s your status update?
MR. BURTON: The President has been informed. Sounds like General Petraeus is doing pretty good. At this point, the President has not spoken to him.
MR. BURTON: Potentially.
Q — going to be able to meet his deadline of withdrawing from Afghanistan?
MR. BURTON: We’re obviously aware of the press reports today about Afghanistan. And we’re in the middle of the height of violence season in that country. We’re constantly reviewing where things stand, but as the President said in his West Point speech, we’re going to be — there will be another full review come December. But at this point, we feel like we are on pace to hand over the safety and security of the country of Afghanistan to the people of Afghanistan.
As he said before, July 11, 2011, isn’t the date of some massive drawdown. It’s the date that we begin to transition our forces.
Q Can I go back to Petraeus real quick? Did you know if he was hospitalized — you said he’s doing pretty good — what are you basing that on?
MR. BURTON: That’s based on conversations that our staff had with his staff. I don’t know if he’s been hospitalized.
Q On the speech tonight, there are Republicans who have been warning the President not to bring up cap and trade, that it wouldn’t be appropriate given the crisis, that he should concentrate on the recovery. Any response to that? Is the President going to bring it up in the speech? Are you able to give us any highlights?
MR. BURTON: Well, what I’ll say about the speech tonight — and of course, point you towards the briefing that’s going to happen by at 5:30 p.m. by phone with some senior administration officials — but some of the points the President is going to focus on are what we’ve done so far to — at the direction — to direct BP to stop the leak, what we’ve done to work with folks in the region to help clean up the oil, mitigate the environmental disaster, what we need to do going forward in order to mitigate the economic crisis that people are facing as a result of this. We saw a lot of those small business owners while we were in the Gulf region on this trip, and the President has before. And this has been a very tough season for a region that is already hit pretty hard by the recession that we’re in.
And he’ll also talk about what we need to do in terms of safety regulations to make sure that this sort of thing never happens again. But aside from that, I would just point you to the briefing that’s going to happen later on today. The speech has obviously been written. The President is continuing to go through and make some edits, so I don’t want to get ahead of that too much.
Q What about the Republicans, though, trying to preempt any talk of cap and trade? Any reaction to that?
MR. BURTON: I think that no matter what we say, Republicans will continue to have their opinions.
Q Bill, the President has said on this trip that he would like to bring the Gulf back to better than before. I mean, what’s the time frame for that? And is that something that he would expect BP to entirely foot the bill for?
MR. BURTON: Well, this is — we’re facing an environmental catastrophe the likes of which we haven’t really seen before. And the President knows, just like the people of this region know, that getting back to stronger than they were even before is going to take some time.
I would point you to what the President said at that — at the event on the beach in Pensacola, where he talked about the fact that if we work hard and if we stop as much oil as we can from reaching the shores, clean up the oil that gets here, and help to stem some of that — some of the problems associated with that, then even as soon as next year some of these beaches will be fine.
Right now, a lot of these beaches are great to visit. The President encourages you to do that. But in places where it’s affected, he’s hoping that we’ll be able to turn that around as soon as possible. But this is going to be a long process.
Q If the beaches are so great to visit, will the President be canceling his Martha’s Vineyard trip and summering in Pensacola?
MR. BURTON: For starters, we haven’t locked in any summer plans for the President. And so I would just say — I guess the premise of your question can’t even be answered.
Q So Gibbs said this morning that at the end of July, 90 percent-plus of the oil will be contained. Is he talking about the oil that’s already been released, or he’s talking about the oil that’s spewing from the gusher right now? Could you explain a little bit more? Also, I’m assuming that’s based on information he’s gotten from BP. Why would you believe information from BP?
MR. BURTON: For starters, he was referring to the oil that’s currently coming out of the hole at the bottom of the ocean.
Q So it’s not everything that’s been released.
MR. BURTON: That’s right. And that’s based on the containment capacity that we’ll have with different ships that are coming in and the different methods that they’re using to get all that oil contained that’s coming out.
Part of the way that this is — this comes about, it’s a very complex scientific process by which they determine how much oil is coming out, how much is being contained. And it’s based on the best estimates that our own scientists have, working in conjunction with other folks who have the equipment down at the bottom of the ocean.
Q I thought that the response, the federal response, that the flow rate didn’t matter. That’s what Allen and President Obama said, that the initial response — the flow rate didn’t matter, everybody was preparing for a catastrophic event no matter what. But now you’re saying that ships are coming in with more estimates, better estimates coming in — you’re taking additional steps. Doesn’t that suggest that the original statements aren’t necessarily accurate?
MR. BURTON: That’s a slight conflation of two different things. What was initially said was that regardless of the specific number of gallons that were spewed into the ocean each day, the federal government had mobilized the most possible assets in order to deal with this. Right now, there are thousands of ships — there are tens of thousands of personnel who are down there helping to deal with this issue.
So in terms of what our response is in order to stop the oil from coming out and in order to clean it up, no matter how much that flow rate was, we’re still going to be as aggressive as humanly possible.
What was the second part of your question?
Q I just don’t understand —
MR. BURTON: Oh, why don’t we trust BP?
Q Well, now I have two things. Yes, that one. And then also, I don’t understand why the flow rate didn’t matter before but now it matters.
MR. BURTON: Well, I would say — well, it’s two different things. On the one hand, it doesn’t matter in terms of the fact that we mobilized as aggressive a response as has ever been mobilized in the history of our country in an environmental catastrophe. It does matter in the sense that you need to know how much oil is coming up to know how much you’ve got to capture and move to other places in the line.
So I would say that in terms of response, we’re doing everything we can. In terms of capture, it helps to know how much oil is coming so that you know how much you need to put inside the boat to move it away.
Q And then the thing about BP, why you would trust their information.
MR. BURTON: Like I said, it’s our own team of scientists who are working in conjunction with folks who —
Q Sorry, talk about the energy piece of the speech tonight a little bit. I mean, what — give us a little flavor of what he is going to say, if you can.
MR. BURTON: Well, again, I’ll point you to the call that’s going to happen later on, because the speech is still in process. But moving to a new energy economy is something the President has talked about since the first day of his administration, and you can bet he’ll talk about that some tonight.
Q Have you agreed with BP on the size of the escrow account? And if so, what is the size of the escrow account?
MR. BURTON: This is something that every particular is still in process. I don’t have any announcements for you on any piece of the escrow.
Q Will the President give us a number on the escrow account tonight?
MR. BURTON: I would say just hold out and wait for the actual speech. What’s important to the President as it relates to the claims process is that they’re handled fairly, promptly, and that BP has enough money to make these folks whole who have been hurt so much by the spill.
Q Any response to the emails that have come out of Congress, the BP emails indicating people calling it a “nightmare well,” et cetera, before the explosion?
MR. BURTON: This is something that — we knew there were some major problems here. And there’s been a commission put in place in order to take a real hard look at what went wrong, who did the wrong thing, and what we need to do to make sure that those folks are addressed and this never happens again. But I wouldn’t get ahead of our own commission and what they’re going to come out with.
Q Is it evident, though, to the administration and the Justice Department at this point that there was criminal negligence on the part of BP?
MR. BURTON: I’d just point you to the Justice Department on that. I wouldn’t want to get in front of DOJ.
Q Two seconds ago, you said that the President is concerned about BP’s ability to pay. Does that mean he’s worried that they’re liquid enough and that they have enough cash reserves for this escrow account?
MR. BURTON: No. What I said was the President wanted to make sure that they had enough money put away in order to pay. That wasn’t a concern that they had — they’ve got plenty of assets, they’ve got plenty of cash. We’re going to work to make sure that the money is put in the right place to make sure that they’re taking care of the Gulf region.
Q On the escrow account, if he is not — if you can’t talk about tonight, can you say that he will have a number by tomorrow after they finish their meeting?
MR. BURTON: I don’t have any announcements.
Q Do we want to do one final on — has the President seen the reports that Senator Kennedy had multiple death threats? Does he have any comment on that? Is he aware of it? What’s the White House’s view on that?
MR. BURTON: I don’t know if he’s seen the reports, so I don’t have anything for you on that. Thanks, guys.
Q — the President said that he was going to make it better down there when this was all through. What is he going to do about the oppressive heat? (Laughter.)
MR. BURTON: There are some things that even President Obama is not capable of. But, boy, you guys look terrible today. (Laughter.)
Q A motley crew, we are a motley crew.
12:56 P.M. EDT