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Interview With Larry King on CNN's "Larry King Live"

June 03, 2010

Larry King: President Barack Obama is next on Larry King Live.

President Obama faces enormous challenges on his 500th day in office. I sat down with him at the White House today to discuss some of them. And we began by talking about an environmental disaster that has no end in sight.

[Begin videotape.]

Mr. President, thank you for being with us on our 25th anniversary week.

The President: Larry, congratulations on 25 wonderful years.

Larry King: Thank you. It's been a special honor.

The President: Unbelievable.

Larry King: And an honor to be here and be with you.

The President: Thank you.

Larry King: I know you're going down to the Gulf again. But there's a question that a lot of us are pondering.

After this is over, what about hurricanes? What about oil raining down? Have we thought about what we're going to do when it's over?

The President: Well, this is an unprecedented oil spill. We haven't seen like -- anything like this before. And that's why the minute that the rig blew up and then sank down to the bottom of the ocean, I called in my entire team. And I have to tell you, Larry, that the worst case scenario was even worse than what we're seeing now because--

Larry King: This is worse than what you thought it would be?

The President: No, no, no. What I'm saying is it could have--

Larry King: Oh.

The President: -- been even worse. So we realized right away this was going to be a big event, a big problem and that we had to put everything we had into it.

So right away, we started mobilizing our Coast Guard, making sure that we are putting pressure on BP to activate their response. Eventually we ended up sending our top scientists. We now have about 100 of the top scientists from around the world in our national labs -- to look over BP's shoulder in terms of figuring out how they're going to plug the well.

And we also knew, though, that, ultimately, the only way to relieve the well safely is to drill what are called these relief wells.

Now, BP and other oil companies traditionally just drill one. We said, drill two in case one of them doesn't work. But that takes some time. It takes about three months.

In the meantime, they've been experimenting with a whole bunch of other ways that they can capture the oil. But we've had a big spill. And we know that it's going to be a long response, a long cleanup. And my commitment has always been -- for the last 40 some days, to make sure that we are doing everything we can to mitigate the damage, to help clean up, help recover, because this is an area that already got battered during hurricane season. And this is an area that is a concern not only for the economy of the Gulf, but also for an entire way of life.

Larry King: Have the scientists discussed, what about a hurricane?

The President: You know, Wolf, I did -- I had a Situation Room meeting about a week-and-a-half ago where we got the report that this could be a more severe than normal hurricane season.

And I asked, well, how does a potential oil spill interact with a hurricane?

And it turns out that -- and now these are all estimations and probabilities. It turns out that a big, powerful hurricane, ironically, is probably less damaging with respect to the oil spill because it just disperses everything and the oil breaks up and -- and degrades more quickly. It's those tropical storms and tides that would just wash stuff into the marshes that would really be an ecological disaster.

But, look, we -- we've got a couple of tasks right now.

Number one, BP has to shut down this well. Now, the only guarantee to shut it down is the relief well and that's going to take a couple of months. In the meantime, we hope that by cutting the riser and putting a cap on this thing, they can funnel up the oil and that will help.

In the meantime, we've still got all these barrels of oil that are sloshing around in the Gulf. They move with the currents. We don't always know where they are. But what we can do is make sure that our response doesn't hold anything back, that we put everything we've got into Louisiana, which has been hardest hit so far; Alabama, Mississippi and Florida.

Larry King: Senator Nelson wants the Defense Department, he says, more fully involved -- more troops.

The President: Yes. You know, I think that there's a mistaken understanding.

First of all, the Coast Guard is part of our armed services and they're responsible for the coordinating, along with the responsible party -- in this case, BP -- to make sure that recovery efforts are top notch. And what I've said to Thad Allen, who's the national incident coordinator and is somebody who has been dealing with oil spills for 39 years now, is whatever you need, you will get.

Larry King: So if he says troops, he'll get troops?

The President: If he -- if he says that there's equipment that's helpful in dealing with this problem, he will get it. But keep in mind that all this stuff has to be coordinated. Right now we've got over 20,000 people who are working there. We've authorized the activation of 17,000 National Guardsmen. We've got 1,700 vessels already in the water.

And, you know, what you don't want is a situation where everybody is stepping on each other and not doing the best possible job, in coordination with the state and local levels.

. . .

Larry King: What part of it is your baby? What part of it is the country and not BP?

The President: Well, BP caused this spill. We don't yet know exactly what happened. But whether it's a combination of human error, them cutting corners on safety or a whole other variety of variables, they're responsible. So they've got to pick up the -- the tab for the cleanup, the damages, fishermen who are unable to fish right in the middle of their most important season.

And my job is to make sure that they are being held accountable, that we get to the bottom of how this happened, that they are paying what they're supposed to be paying, that they cap this well.

In terms of actually solving the problem, BP has particular expertise when it comes to capping the well. They've got the equipment that -- that our Defense Department -- the first thing I asked was, do we have some equipment that they don't have?

And they, along with other oil companies, have the best equipment and have the best technology to deal with the well at the bottom of the ocean.

What we have a responsibility for is to make sure that the recovery efforts, the mitigation efforts along the coastline, making sure that fishermen and businesses that are being affected are getting paid properly, making sure that local people are being hired -- all those efforts are ones where we can do it better.

And so what we've said is, you're going to pay. You will coordinate -- BP -- with us. But ultimately, if we say that you need to deploy folks over there or you need to compensate such and such here or you need to, for example, most recently, help to dredge up and create some barrier islands in some selective areas of Louisiana in accordance with some of the ideas that the state had down there, then you need to do it.

Larry King: Some -- I know you -- you appear so calm. Are you angry at BP?

The President: You know, I am furious at this entire situation, because this is an example of where somebody didn't think through the consequences of their actions. And it is imperiling not just a handful of people, this is imperiling an entire way of life and an entire region for, potentially, years. So --

Larry King: Has the company felt your anger?

The President: Well, they have felt the anger. But what I haven't seen as much as I'd like is the kind of rapid response.

Now, they want to solve the problem, too, because this is costing them a lot of money. And the one thing that I think is important to underscore is that I would love to just spend a lot of my time venting and yelling at people. But that's not the job I was hired to do. My job is to solve this problem. And, ultimately, this isn't about me and how angry I am. Ultimately, this is about the people down in the Gulf who are being impacted and what am I doing to make sure that they're able to salvage their way of life?

And that's going to be the main focus that I've got in the weeks and months ahead.

Larry King: Governor Jindal, the governor of Louisiana, he's asked you to -- he's got concerns about the impact of stopping -- of the moratorium you have on drilling. And now that's been extended to -- to the shallow waters, as well.

What would you say to him?

The President: Well, actually, the moratorium has not extended to the shallow waters. It's only--

Larry King: Oh, that's wrong?

The President: It's only the -- it's only the deep water wells that we've placed a moratorium.

Look, we've just seen an environmental disaster that's come about because these oil companies said they had a plan to deal with the worst case scenario and, obviously, it wasn't a very good plan because it's not working, Larry. And nobody is being impacted more than the citizens of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal's state.

So I have said in the past that we need to transition to a more clean energy future. But we're not going to do that overnight. We've got to have domestic oil production. And I am supportive of offshore drilling if it can be done safely and it doesn't result in these kinds of horrible environmental disasters.

And the problem I've got is until I've got a review that tells me, A, what happened; B, how do you prevent a blowout of the sort that we saw; C, if, even if it's a one in a million chance something like this happens again, that we actually know how to deal with it.

Until that happens, it would be irresponsible of me to lift that moratorium.

. . .

Larry King: A couple of other things. Former President Carter has condemned the Israeli raid against those ships in the -- the flotilla trying to break the blockade of Gaza.

Where do you stand on that? A former American president has condemned it.

The President: Well, you know, the United States, with the other members of the U.N. Security Council, said very clearly that we condemned all the acts that led up to this violence. It was a tragic situation. You've got loss of life that was unnecessary. And so we are calling for an effective investigation of everything that happened.

And I think that the Israelis are going to agree to that -- an investigation of international standards -- because they recognize that this can't be good for Israel's long-term security.

Here's what we've got. You've got a situation in which Israel has legitimate security concerns when they've got missiles raining down on cities along the Israel/Gaza border. I've been to those towns and seen the holes that were made by missiles coming through people's bedrooms. So Israel has a legitimate concern there.

On the other hand, you've got a blockade up that is preventing people in Palestinian Gaza from having job opportunities and being able to create businesses and engage in trade and have opportunity for the future.

I think what's important right now is, is that we break out of the current impasse, use this tragedy as an opportunity so that we figure out how can we meet Israel's security concerns, but at the same time start opening up opportunity for Palestinians, work with all parties concerned -- the Palestinian Authority, the Israelis, the Egyptians and others -- and -- and I think Turkey can have a positive voice in this whole process once we've worked through this tragedy -- and bring everybody together to figure out how can we get a two-state solution, where Palestinians and Israelis can live side by side in peace and security.

Larry King: It's premature, then, to condemn Israel?

The President: Well, I think that we need to know what all the facts are. But it's not premature to say to the Israelis and to say to the Palestinians and to say to all the parties in the region that the status quo is unsustainable. We have been trying to do this piecemeal for decades now and it just doesn't work. You've got to have a situation in which the Palestinians have real opportunity and Israel's neighbors recognize Israel's legitimate security concerns and are committed to peace.

Larry King: You met with the Arizona governor today. Will the administration bring a legal challenge to that law?

The President: You know, I'm not going to comment on that, Larry, because that's really the job of the Justice Department. And, you know, I made a commitment early on that I wouldn't be putting my hand -- thumb on the scales when these kinds of decisions are made.

I've expressed a personal opinion, which is that although I understand the frustration of the people of Arizona when it comes to the inflow of illegal immigrants, I don't think this is the right way to do it. I think this puts American citizens who look Hispanic, are Hispanic, potentially in a unfair situation and--

Larry King: But you're not going to -- [inaudible] --

The President: And, more importantly, it also creates the prospects of 50 different laws in 50 different states when it comes to immigration. This is a federal job. What we have to do is take on that federal responsibility by working with border states on border security.

And I told Governor Brewer that we've already put more resources into border security than we ever have. We have got more border guards in Arizona than we ever had. We've got -- we just made decisions to put in additional National Guard.

But without comprehensive immigration reform, that is Congress' responsibility, we are not going to solve this problem and that's what we have to do.

. . .

Larry King: A couple of other quick things, because I know we have a little bit of a time limit.

First, do you still like this job?

The President: Well, this is the best job on earth. I mean it's a -- it's an extraordinary privilege to be able to wake up every day and know that you have the opportunity to serve the American people and -- and make their lives a little bit better or maybe it's the next generation's lives a little bit better. And--

Larry King: No matter what a polls say?

The President: You know what, the truth of the matter is, is that given everything we've gone through, my poll numbers are doing all right.


Larry King: It's 48 percent. Is that all right?

The President: You know, the -- we've gone through the worst recession since the Great Depression. We've got two wars going on right now. We've had multiple crises that have cropped up and people still haven't fully recovered in terms of their job losses, in terms of what's happening in housing.

So, you know, people, I think, understandably, are frustrated. But what they're starting to see is that the economy is getting better. We had the biggest job growth in years last month and I think we'll have decent job growth this month--

Larry King: Tomorrow it will come out.

The President: Tomorrow we'll get an announcement. Businesses are starting to invest again. Manufacturing is stronger than it's been. The investments that we made early on -- some of which were controversial -- are paying off.

If you look at, just to give you one example, the auto industry. I mean, GM is now turning a profit and hiring again. And the banks, as frustrating as, you know, the situation of having to bail them out was, they are repaying that money.

And so a lot of the decisions that are being made are starting to pan out. But we're not out of the woods yet. People are still hurting. And, you know, it is a great privilege for me to have the most interesting job in the world and one where, every once in a while, I'll get a letter from somebody -- you know, I -- I was traveling through Iowa. A woman comes up to me and says, you know what, that healthcare bill you passed, I'm a small business woman, I'm going to take advantage of that credit this year. This is going to help me and I might be able to hire somebody else because you just gave me the chance to get decent healthcare.

Larry King: And one other thing. LeBron James is with us tomorrow night. We pre-interviewed him. And he says, all things being equal, he's probably leaning toward Cleveland. That's where he grew up, in Akron. But he grew up a Bulls fan.

You want him to go to Chicago, right?

The President: No, no, no. I--

Larry King: What did you say?

The President: I want to be clear. What I -- what I said to--

Larry King: Clear it up.

The President: First of all, LeBron, I've had a chance to meet him -- a wonderful young man, an amazing talent.

What I said to him was -- I didn't say it to him, I said it to Marv Albert. He needs to be in a place where he's got a coach and a team around him that can do what Phil Jackson and the Bulls did for Michael Jordan. Michael Jordan couldn't win a championship on his own. It's all about having a team concept that works. And he hasn't quite gotten that yet and he needs to find that situation.

I'll be honest with you -- and my folks in Chicago may be mad at me for saying this, but I think it would be a wonderful story if LeBron says, you know what, I'm going to stay here in Cleveland. You know, he's from Ohio. You know, that -- that's a town that has had some tough times. For him to say--

Larry King: Wow!

The President: -- I'm going to make a commitment to this city, you know, I think would be a wonderful thing.

But he's got to make sure that he's got a team around him and a coach that he respects, he's bought into a team concept, he's willing to be coached. And -- and if he does that, he'll have an even more remarkable career than he's having right now.

Larry King: I saw you singing to "Michelle" last night with -- with Paul McCartney. That was a pretty nice kick, huh?

The President: Let me tell you, the -- I think that was one of the highlights that Michelle's had, is when Paul McCartney sings "Michelle."

The President: To her, you know -- when she was a little girl growing up on the south side of Chicago, I suspect she didn't think that was ever going to happen.

Larry King: Thank you, Mr. President.

The President: Thank you, Larry. Appreciate you.

Larry King: Thanks for celebrating with us.

The President: Congratulations again.

Larry King: President Barack Obama.

Barack Obama, Interview With Larry King on CNN's "Larry King Live" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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