PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) - President Barack Obama is capping two
days in the suffering Gulf of Mexico with a solemn, high-stakes
address to the nation that will lay out the enormous effort needed
to right the multifaceted damage from the country's worst
With the political import of Tuesday evening's address clear,
Obama for the first time will use the Oval Office as an austere
backdrop for a speech in which he will assign himself and his
administration the momentous task of bringing back the Gulf's
teeming wildlife and beauty to what it was before it was fouled by
hundreds of millions of gallons of oil.
To victims of the spill, those who've lost their loved ones or
livelihood or who've been less directly impacted, Obama will
promise that their injuries will be addressed through a
compensation fund he's directing BP PLC to establish.
To the residents of the Gulf and the nation as a whole, Obama
will make a commitment to deliver an ecological and economic
restoration that will define his presidency as surely as George W.
Bush's failure to make good on his promises on Hurricane Katrina
defined Obama's predecessor's.
Obama will even make a promise to future generations by using
the speech to push Congress for action on sweeping energy and
climate legislation that could leave his imprint on the nation's
energy policy for decades to come.
Obama's address to the nation sets the stage for his showdown
White House meeting Wednesday with top executives at British-based
BP, the company that leased the rig that exploded April 20 and led
to the leak of millions of gallons of coast-devastating crude. It's
part of an effort by Obama, who's been accused of appearing
somewhat detached as the oil spill disaster has unfolded, to
convince a frightened Gulf Coast and a skeptical nation that he is
It was Obama himself who decided to use the Oval Office for the
speech, according to White House spokesman Bill Burton, because of
the urgency of the task ahead.
"What we're seeing in the Gulf is a catastrophe the likes of
which our country has never seen before," Burton said of the
president's thinking. "And so talking directly with the American
people about what we're doing to address this crisis and what we're
going to be doing moving forward is very important to the president
Obama was to deliver the speech upon his return from a two-day
swing through Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, his fourth trip to
the Gulf since the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion that
set off the disaster, but his first outside the hardest-hit state
The trip gave him ammunition for the speech and for his meeting
with BP executives where he intends to finalize the details of a
victims compensation fund. He visited vacant beaches in Mississippi
where the threat of oil had scared off tourists, heard the stories
of local employers losing business, watched hazmat-suited workers
scrub down boom in a staging facility in Theodore, Ala., and took a
ferry ride through Mobile Bay and then to Orange Beach, Ala., where
oil has lapped on the shore.
He was beginning the day Tuesday in Pensacola, Fla., where he
was to attend a briefing and then make remarks at Naval Air Station
"We're gathering up facts, stories right now so that we have an
absolutely clear understanding about how we can best present to BP
the need to make sure that individuals and businesses are dealt
with in a fair manner and a prompt manner," the president said
"I am confident that we're going to be able to leave the Gulf
Coast in better shape than it was before," he said.
That pledge was reminiscent of George W. Bush's promise to
rebuild the region "even better and stronger" than before
Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Bush could not make good on that
promise, and Obama did not spell out how he would fulfill his.
Tuesday's speech will give him the chance.
Presidents reserve the Oval Office for rare televised addresses.
When they take their place behind the desk, it's a time for
solemnity and straight talk - often a moment of history. There is a
sense of gravity. One man by himself before one television camera
speaking to the nation.
Oval Office addresses typically aren't lengthy discourses like a
State of the Union, but if a president has to go for broke, this is
where he does it. Bush addressed the nation from the Oval on the
evening of Sept. 11, 2001. Ronald Reagan spoke there after the
space shuttle Challenger explosion. John F. Kennedy grimly
explained the Cuban missile crisis. Richard Nixon announced his
Obama hasn't used it yet. Not even during the worst economic
crisis since the Great Depression. Not to explain painfully high
unemployment rates. Or bank and auto company bailouts. Not to speak
of terrorism threats. Even when his health insurance plan was in
peril, he did not speak from the Oval Office to rally support or
explain to Americans why he considered it vital.