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Obama Defends Response to Gulf Oil Spill, Pledges to 'Shut This Down'

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President Obama speaks at a press conference in the East Room of the White House May 27. (AP Photo)

President Obama is assuring the public that he is seizing the reins of the oil spill response in the Gulf of Mexico, saying Thursday that Washington is calling the shots even though it needs to rely on BP's expertise. 

"I take responsibility. It is my job to make sure that everything is done to shut this down," Obama said. 

Speaking at his first formal, extensive press conference since July, Obama rejected the notion that Washington has been sitting on the "sidelines." He said the response is "absolutely not" going perfectly and that he was "wrong" to believe oil companies "had their act together when it came to worst-case scenarios," but insisted his administration is committed to stopping the leak and controlling the damage. 

"We are relying on every resource and every idea," he said Thursday. "We will take ideas from anywhere, but we are going to stop it." 

The press conference comes as the White House battles the perception that it has not done enough to contain the damage from the gushing oil spill. The criticism has been mounting in recent days, particularly from lawmakers and political strategists typically aligned with the Obama White House. 

The president took questions from 10 reporters at the press conference -- most of them dealt with the oil spill. 

From the top, Obama called the leak his administration's "highest priority" and said the federal government is "in charge." He said anyone claiming otherwise doesn't know the facts. 

"This entire White House and this federal government has been singularly focused on how do we stop the leak and how do we prevent and mitigate the damage to our coastlines," Obama said. 

Obama said response teams are using the "best science" to plug the leak, but stressed that BP, not the federal government, has the "superior technology" to get the job done. He said the federal government is taking "full advantage" of that expertise.

But he insisted that Washington is the one giving the orders and has the authority to direct BP to change course. 

"From the moment this disaster began, the federal government has been in charge of the response effort," Obama said. "BP is operating at our direction." 

He added that BP will pay "every dime" for the damage it has done to the coastal communities. "BP is responsible for this horrific disaster and we will hold them fully accountable on behalf of the United States," he said. 

The Obama administration unveiled a host of policy changes in the run-up to the event -- Obama confirmed at the press conference that he was extending a moratorium on new deepwater drilling permits for another six months. He also announced that drilling off the coast of Alaska was being suspended and that certain lease sales off the coast of Virginia and in the Gulf have been canceled. 

Shortly before Obama entered the East Room, the head of the Minerals Management Service, which oversees offshore drilling, resigned. Obama pointed the finger at MMS during his press conference for lax oversight, but claimed that he only found out about director Elizabeth Birnbaum's departure Thursday. 

"I don't know the circumstances in which this occurred," he said. Asked whether Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's job was safe, Obama said it was. 

Obama claimed his administration inherited the problems at MMS, but said "I take responsibility" for problems that persisted since he took office. 

As he spoke, BP was trying to inject mud into the leak to plug it, an effort the Coast Guard said was seeing some success.