Time to Tap? Is Obama Flip-Flopping on Energy? His Campaign Responds

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This is a rush transcript from "America's Election HQ," August 4, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

HEATHER NAUERT, HOST: Hi, everyone. And welcome to "America's Election Headquarters." I'm Heather Nauert and you vote in just 92 days.

Today's a big day for Barack Obama. He delivered an important energy speech and it's also his birthday today. The presumptive Democratic nominee turned 47 years old today -- Happy Birthday, Barack. If elected in November, he would be one of the youngest presidents in the United States history.

Watch Heather's interview

He spent today on the campaign trail in Lansing, Michigan, and tonight, he's in Boston for a big fundraising fiesta. Today, Obama, though, made an interesting proposal for reducing the price of gas. It's being called by some a reversal for the senator.

Take a listen here:


SEN. BARACK OBAMA, PRESUMPTIVE DEMOCRATIC NOMINEE: We should sell 70 million barrels of oil from our Strategic Petroleum Reserve for less expensive crude, which in the past has lowered gas prices within two weeks. Over the next five years, we should also lease more of the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska for oil and gas production.


NAUERT: With us now is Obama national campaign co-chairman and former secretary of energy and transportation under President Clinton, Federico Pena.

Welcome, Mr. Secretary. Thank you for joining us.

FEDERICO PENA, OBAMA CAMP NATIONAL CO-CHAIR: Thank you, Heather. Happy to be here.

NAUERT: So, let me ask you, Barack Obama today talking about possibly tapping the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, but just not too long ago, he said that that was not, in fact, a good idea. So, why the turnaround?

PENA: Well, I think there is a distinction between simply selling the oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and swapping it. And what he is in favor of is a president always having the flexibility to swap the oil, just as President Bush did before the first Persian invasion in 1991 -- Persian Gulf invasion -- and secondly, what President Clinton did it in the year 2000.

So, by selling a certain type of oil out of this Strategic Petroleum Reserve and then refilling it with other oil later on -- so we'll always have the reserve in the ground -- is an appropriate way to see a reduction somewhat on the price of crude.

NAUERT: OK. So, let me make sure I understand you correctly. He is -- you're saying that he's not going back on his earlier pledge or idea to not touch it, and rather, he would just want to replace it with a different type of oil, if you will?

PENA: That's right. There's a difference between simply selling it outright and not swapping it, and that's the position he's taken. He wants to swap it, which is something which we'd done in the past under previous administrations, and it has had some effect in reducing world crude prices.

NAUERT: OK. But there is somewhat of a turnaround here and also on another issue. Over the weekend, he talked about his support for offshore drilling, something he had been adamantly against in the past. So, why the turnaround on that issue?

PENA: Well, what he's opposed to is offshore drilling by itself. What he was responding to was a compromise solution proposed by 10 senators, five Democrats and five Republicans, very recently in the Senate, where they had proposed eliminating the tax reductions for the oil and gas companies, investing in new technology and renewable energy, and as part of that, a limited offshore production of oil -- and in that context, because so much of that package was very consistent with what he believes in -- he supported it.

So, he's never been against production. In fact, what he's saying is that of the 68 million...

NAUERT: ...but, he has very often -- in fairness -- said "no drilling" and that rather he wants to focus on conservation, which is something in line with what many of the hardcore Democrats do fundamentally believe.

PENA: Well, these are very important points, Heather, and I want to be very clear. What the senator has said is he is for drilling in the 68 million acres that we currently have leased from the Department of Interior, which are not fully in production now, and he wants oil and gas companies to continue to fully produce the acreage we have now. And if we did that, we'd have more domestically-produced oil but he doesn't...

NAUERT: ...but what about the offshore drilling point?

PENA: Well, as I said, in the context of that proposal that came out of the Senate, with so many very positive aspects in terms of eliminating the tax credits for oil and gas companies, and investment in clean energy, which are his positions -- overall, that compromise was far more in line with what he wanted.

And so in that context, he's willing to support it, but the most important point is this -- he does not want us to be distracted into believing we can drill our way out of this problem. It does involve conservation, investment in renewables, many other things that get us off of future use of oil. That's the most important point.

NAUERT: Got it. Sir, let me ask you real quickly, Congress adjourned last week; they're home for five weeks without having done anything on this issue. Is Barack Obama going to say to Nancy Pelosi and to Harry Reid, Hey, let's get these members of Congress back in Washington to handle this during the August recess?

PENA: Well, I know it's been very frustrating for, at least, the Democratic senators because of the filibuster. They've not been able to get anything passed because, frankly, there are a number of Republican senators who don't allow us to get past the 60 votes.

I haven't spoken to Senator Obama about his view on whether Congress should go back or not -- hopefully, I'll have a chance to do that -- but the important thing is we need to get going. And I know the senator has worked very hard in trying to develop...

NAUERT: And I think a lot of folks would agree with you that folks on Capitol Hill need to get going on that. Sir, I'm sorry. We're going to have to leave it at that. But thank you so much for joining us. Federico Pena, thank you very much.

PENA: Thank you, Heather. Thank you.

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