WASHINGTON - (AP) - Fresh from admonishing BP before the world,President Barack Obama now gets his moment with the oil company'sleaders. It will be on his turf and, he vowed to an angry nation,on his terms.
See President Obama's full speech here
"We will make BP pay for the damage their company has caused,"Obama declared in his first Oval Office address, a venue oftenreserved for matters of war. That is now how Obama describes themassive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico - a "siege" on the shoresof America.
Obama's showdown at the White House on Wednesday with BPexecutives will be his first direct encounter with them since oneof their oil wells blew out off the Louisiana coast nearly 60 daysago, killing 11 workers and releasing a so-far unstoppable geyserof oil. BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg was invited and encouragedto bring other officials; BP chief executive Tony Hayward, thebeleaguered face of the BP response, is expected to attend, too.
For the president, the tough diplomacy with a few officialsbehind closed doors is a bookend to his attempt to reach millionsat once. Using a delivery in which even the harshest words wereuttered in subdued tones, Obama did not offer much in the way ofnew ideas or details in his speech to the nation Tuesday night.Instead, he mainly recapped the government's efforts, insisted onceagain that BP will be held to account and tried to tap theresilience of a nation in promising that "something betterawaits."
Now, at the White House, Obama said he will tell the chairman ofthe British-based oil company that it must set aside "whateverresources are required" to compensate the Gulf Coast people whoselives have been upended because of what he called BP'srecklessness.
What's more, Obama said this new damages fund, used to payclaims to workers and business owners, won't be run by BP. He saidan independent third party will be in charge to ensure people arepaid in a fair and timely way.
The cost of such a fund would be enormous. The White Houseinsists is has the legal authority to make it happen.
Still, administration officials also acknowledge a negotiationis at play here, and key issues remain unsolved.
Among them: Who will oversee the escrow fund, who will make thatdecision, how large will the fund be and whether BP will pay thesalaries of oil workers idled by a six-month moratorium on newdeep-water oil drilling.
BP declined to offer details about what proposals it would bringto the meeting or any reaction to Obama's biting words.
The company said in a statement that it shares Obama's goal of"shutting off the well as quickly as possible, cleaning up the oiland mitigating the impact on the people and environment of the GulfCoast. We look forward to meeting with President Obama tomorrow fora constructive discussion about how to best achieve these mutualgoals."
The president expects to be able to announce a deal quickly toan impatient nation. He planned a Rose Garden statement after themeeting. He was to attend a portion of the BP session while hisaides handle the rest.
Obama devoted a major portion of his talk to pushing the goal ofenacting wide-ranging energy and climate change legislation, a keydomestic priority of his presidency that had become a long shot.
But while Obama urged action, he was subtle about what he wascalling on lawmakers and the public to rally behind. For instance,though Obama supports placing a price on heat-trapping carbonemissions, he did not directly state that.
"The tragedy unfolding on our coast is the most painful andpowerful reminder yet that the time to embrace a clean energyfuture is now," he said. "I say we can't afford not to change howwe produce and use energy - because the long-term costs to oureconomy, our national security, and our environment are fargreater."
Also, Obama announced that former Mississippi Gov. Ray Mabuswill develop a long-term Gulf Coast Restoration Plan - to be fundedby BP - in concert with local communities.
Obama's forceful tone about BP's behavior shows how far mattershave deteriorated. The White House once had described BP as anessential partner in plugging the crude oil spewing from the brokenwell beneath nearly a mile of water. Now Obama says BP hasthreatened to destroy a whole way of life.
"I refuse to let that happen," Obama said in his televisedaddress.
Yet even as Obama pledged not to rest until the Gulf Coastregion is restored, he didn't detail exactly how he would keep thatpromise.
Meanwhile, the frantic effort to stop the leak and contain theworst environmental disaster in U.S. history plods on. So does theventing and search for answers on Capitol Hill, with three morecongressional hearings set for Wednesday.
The president is straddling a line. He must show he is a leadernot a shouter, yet also one who can relate and respond to theintense emotion of this catastrophe. And public confidence isslipping with every day the oily mess keeps pluming away.
An Associated Press-GfK poll released Tuesday showed 52 percentnow disapprove of Obama's handling of the oil spill, upsignificantly from last month. Most people - 56 percent - think thegovernment's actions in response to the disaster really haven't hadany impact on the situation.
Obama's Oval Office address was the most prominent sign yet thatthe oil spill response has become his agenda; everything else mustcompete for his time. He managed to use the forum to extensivelyplug his effort for a massive clean-energy bill.
Already forgotten was that Obama wasn't supposed to be in theWhite House on Tuesday night but rather in Indonesia as part of hisoutreach to the Muslim world. He scrapped that trip to deal withthis crisis, using his time to tour the Gulf cleanup once again,address the nation and call in BP officials for direct talks.
The damages are huge. A government panel of scientists now saysthe well is spewing even more oil than previously thought. Thetotal spilled so far could be as much as 116 million gallons.