Aboard Air Force One
En Route Chicago, Illinois
4:50 P.M. CDT
Q: Do you have anything on the — reaction from the President to the Sestak —
MR. GIBBS: I’ve just been dealing with oil today. I will go talk to him about this after this, but I’ve been focused on all this stuff today.
Q: What does the President have to say about the fact that some of his staunchest supporters like James Carville have essentially turned on him, have some strong things to say about the way he’s been handling the oil spill?
MR. GIBBS: Truthfully, I think the President answered this yesterday. I think people — I don’t think James understands all of what we’re doing. I don’t think James understood the facts.
Q: Robert, has the President spoken to CEO Hayward at all during this crisis?
MR. GIBBS: No. He has — you know, obviously Ken Salazar has dealt with BP on a number of occasions. Secretary Chu has been in Houston for most of this week; he went down there starting on Monday to work through some of what was going on on the top kill procedure and to help — with our scientists and the national scientists on that. But he has not talked to him.
Q: Why haven’t these two guys — two top guys talked about the situation? I mean, it seems like a natural thing.
MR. GIBBS: Well, no, I think we’ve — I think we get plenty of information from BP on what’s going on.
Q: Robert, did the President and President Clinton discuss this Sestak thing yesterday when they had lunch together?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I’m aware of, but I haven’t talked to him about the lunch.
Q: When did you personally find out about the Clinton connection?
MR. GIBBS: I have talked to people — I answered questions on this I think in March that nothing inappropriate had happened based on conversations that I’d had with the lawyers. I’d have to go back and look at notes.
Q: Robert, if the Sestak incident wasn’t the purpose for the lunch yesterday, what was the purpose for the lunch with —
MR. GIBBS: The President was — President Clinton was in town for the World Cup. He’s heading our efforts to get the World Cup in — I’m going to get my dates wrong, as a soccer player — either 2018 or 2020 I think we’re bidding for. So he was in town and at the White House for that. And I think whenever you have a former President — these guys tend to get together and talk about what’s going on in the world.
Q: Robert, does the President still believe that he’s getting the right information from BP in a timely manner? I mean, we’re hearing that the operation was delayed, shut down, whatever you want to call it, in terms of pumping in the mud, and yet officials didn’t know —
MR. GIBBS: What do you mean, was shut down?
Q: You know, there’s all this debate as to what was done. There was a period of time when the top kill, as we understand it, was not happening — this pumping of mud — and apparently administration officials didn’t know that this had occurred.
MR. GIBBS: Let me — I don’t think that’s even close to being accurate. I don’t know where you’re getting that information.
Q: That they stopped pumping the mud?
MR. GIBBS: No, no, that they — look, to get — to put the type of pressure with this drilling mud that you need to put into a well to — four miles underneath the surface is an oil reserve that is, as we see from this video gushing up — right? So the mud, in order to seal this permanently, you’ve got to pump mud in at a speed and a pace that turns the oil in this direction back in this direction; and that when you do that, the pressure has to decrease at a steady rate until the well is stabilized.
So there are periods in which you are pumping mud at varying degrees, degrees of pace, and there are times in which you’re going to switch out boats that have thousands of barrels of mud on them, understanding that — the figures that I’ve seen and that were originally discussed, they were going to have to pump 50 barrels of mud a minute into the blowout preventer and into the well in order to change the direction of that. You’ve got to have equipment that can do that.
So there have been several points at which they have pumped mud at that pace, and there have also been points that they haven’t pumped mud or they’ve switched ships that had mud — I think there were two or three boats in the area that had mud. So I certainly have never been under the impression that for the past — when did this thing start — on Wednesday, on Wednesday at 2:00 p.m. Eastern — that they’ve been pumping mud continuously. I certainly have never been under that —
Q: So I just want to — the question, I guess, is, do you feel like you’ve been getting all the —
MR. GIBBS: Secretary Chu has been in Houston. Yes, I don’t — been working through — again, Secretary Chu with our scientists have been working through a number of these plans. I spent 45 minutes on a conference call last night with the Secretary of Interior, the Secretary of Homeland Security, Admiral Allen and Secretary Chu. So, yes, I think we’re getting plenty of information.
Q: So why weren’t there any BP people at the table today at the meeting?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don’t — the meeting today — and I think the President believes that they had a good meeting about the actions and the things that the governor of Louisiana and the representatives from Louisiana, the local parishes, the Coast Guard — all of the coordination activities that we all want to see work as best as possible.
We also had the governors from Alabama and Florida there, which obviously, depending on the direction of the wind, the direction of the water, may deal with this in some varying degree over the next several —
Q: But since BP is the responsible party, why weren’t they at the table?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, Admiral Allen is in fairly close contact with BP. There are — but this was a meeting about making sure that — and look, the President’s main message is, if there are things you want and need from us, we want to make sure that, in addition to the daily calls that are done with the governors, that there’s an opportunity to walk through what those things are.
They spent a long time talking about the barrier islands. They spent time talking about different legislative things that have been proposed, quite frankly, over many years to deal with what some states feel like are inequities on royalties. They spent time talking about — a little time talking about top kill and what happens next, if top kill is not ultimately successful. And they talked about barrier and boom and how to plan for where this oil moves, understanding that it’s not one monolithic slick. It’s — because of the dispersants and such, it’s broken up, it’s moved in different areas, different chunks have gone in different directions.
Q: The meeting, we were originally — thought it would be about 20 minutes or half an hour, and it ended up being, what —
MR. GIBBS: Almost two hours.
Q: Almost two hours. Why?
MR. GIBBS: I think we had a lot of people and the President — no, no. I mean, I don’t know if you guys saw the still pictures that those guys took, but I think there were probably 15 people around the table and the President asked each of the people —
Q: Is that more —
MR. GIBBS: There were more parish presidents than we, I think, originally expected. Obviously, we invited the governors. We had Admiral Allen, Carol Browner, Rear Admiral Landry, Rear Admiral Watson — so we had a bunch of representatives also from the Coast Guard. The President wanted to hear from everybody, give everybody a chance to speak and give everybody a chance to try to respond.
Q: Was it a friendly meeting? Was it a —
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I mean, you know —
Q: — voices raised?
MR. GIBBS: No, I don’t remember any — at any point in which voices were raised. Obviously, people want to make sure that we’re doing — we’re getting timely requests and that we’re doing what we can. I think the point the President made was — and I think he said this throughout this, which is if you’ve got something you think will work, we’ll be happy to take a look at it, and if it works, we’ll be happy to do it.
Q: How does the rest of the weekend look?
MR. GIBBS: I’m going to New York.
Q: Okay, have a nice trip. We’re not. They’re saying that — the BP people are saying that they may know on Sunday whether this thing works. Could we conceivably see the President on Sunday on this?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know. I mean, we may — the truth is I, obviously, am not listening to what Rear Admiral Landry is saying here. I need to get an update on when — on what the timing is. I think there’s an opportunity we might know before Sunday. I expect that the President will talk with — again talk with Secretary Chu about what he has seen, where we are with this, and then, like I said, if this doesn’t — if this isn’t successful, what the scientists down there have been working on in terms of next steps.
Q: I mean, just for our guidance planning, do you think he’d come out and talk over the weekend?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know the answer to that yet.
Q: Robert, the President, does he come away from this trip feeling more encouraged, based on the information that he got today and seeing it, in terms of this situation being capped, the well being capped, and the cleanup —
MR. GIBBS: Well, again —
Q: — more optimistic about it?
MR. GIBBS: I would say two different things. On the plan to plug the hole, obviously we’ve gotten updates throughout the top kill procedure, so it’s hard to — we’re obviously all hopeful and optimistic. We’ll have a sense of, as I believe they’re in a period of pumping mud right now — there was just a chyron up here that I would point you to, Dan, so that you guys, based on your earlier question — some periods of pumping mud and some periods of pressure readouts and diagnostic testing — because, again, not to go through some of the stuff that we went through before, but once you pump that mud in you’ve got to evaluate whether or not — where the pressure is, has it decreased to a point — because again, if that’s successful you’ll begin making decisions not long after that to the degree to which you can form a more permanent seal with cement.
So, look, we’re hopeful. And I think we’ll know in the next — over the course of the next many hours where we are.
In terms of the response and the cleanup, I think the President believes that we have — that we’re making progress. Look, we’ve been lucky that and fortunate that the spill had not hit — did not hit land for several weeks. I mean, obviously we could — I think the first day we did a long briefing in the briefing room, which would have been the 29th of April, there was some discussion that oil would hit land within the next day after that. So, look, we were fortunate, based on the winds and the currents, that that hasn’t happened.
So what the President heard from the parish presidents — and the Coast Guard spent time with the parish presidents yesterday; Admiral Landry did — is making sure that they have the resources that they need to deal with how and where that oil is moving, and as much as we can, as you’ve heard folks say, how do we keep that out of the nutrient-rich estuaries and marshes that we all know once the oil gets in there, it’s exceedingly hard to clean up.
Q: Is there a reason he didn’t go — the beach that he went to today, do you know how that was chosen and why he didn’t go to a beach that was more soiled with oil or, you know, birds with — covered with oil, or that sort of thing?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think most of the birds that are — I’m not an expert on the geography of that. My sense is from many of the pictures that I’ve seen from places like CNN, those are islands that are more — I think a lot of those places, you have to get in a boat to go to.
This was — we wanted to go to a little bit different section of the state. You obviously saw — you’ve got an economic impact that’s different from simply coastal fisheries in that you see in a place like Grand Isle, you’ve got a pretty bit tourism impact. That tourism impact is being felt in Mississippi and in Alabama and in Florida as well.
So the President — we just went to a different place. You know you saw that — obviously, there’s always — you saw the equipment that was out there. There’s certainly some natural seepage in that, but you see that in those tar balls, that that stuff is beginning to wash up.
Q: What does he want to do with family over the weekend, real quickly?
MR. GIBBS: You know, I think he’s going to want to see some friends that he has — some he’s seen and some he hasn’t seen. I think the family is going to have a get-together and have some friends over for dinner and just sort of be in the old neighborhood for a couple of days, and then go to — go back to the veteran’s cemetery in Will County that he visited in 2005 on Memorial Day.
MR. GIBBS: We better sit down because we’re —
Q: The detonation we heard prior to take-off — we heard a detonation —
MR. GIBBS: Oh, that was a — as I understand it, it was the stairs for the plane, there’s a truck and the tire on the truck popped. It was not a — well, I’ll tell you in a minute if it was an Air Force One tire.
(Air Force One lands.)
MR. GIBBS: No, I think we’re okay. (Laughter.)
Q: Thank you.
END 5:06 P.M. CDT