Panel on Obama's Meeting With BP


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: BP has agreed to set aside $20 billion to pay claims for damages resulting from this spill.

It's also important to emphasize this is not a cap. The people of the Gulf have my commitment that BP will meet the obligation to them.

CARL-HENRIC SVANBERG, BP CHAIRMAN: He's frustrated because he cares about the small people and we care about the small people. I hear comments sometimes that the large oil companies are greedy companies or don't care. But that is not the case at BP. We care about the small people.


BRET BAIER, "SPECIAL REPORT" HOST: Perhaps lost in translation there, the chairman of BP trying to address the perceptions about greed and indifference on this issue, but said the oil giant will hold off on the stockholder dividends for the entire year.

This after this meeting at the White House that lasted a lot longer than people thought it was going to -- 45 minutes with the president and some four hours for BP executives at the White House all told. They agreed to set up this company-financed escrow fund of $20 billion over four years and $100 million for unemployed rig workers because of the drilling moratorium set up by this administration.

Let's bring in our panel, Steve Hayes, senior writer for the Weekly Standard, Erin Billings, deputy editor of Roll Call, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, I think the end result of the negotiations was a significant success for the administration. As you said, people have been talking about them deferring the dividend for the second quarter. They're going to defer it for the whole year, which is quite something, which means actually depriving the pensioners in England of the three dividends that they would ordinarily have. So that is a significant concession.

Second, they had been reeling. BP had been holding fast on the issue of compensation for oil workers idled by the president's decision to have a six-month moratorium, which is in no way a direct result or inevitable result of the spill.  The administration had a choice on that and many people in the Gulf oppose it, but nonetheless the principle was conceded. The small amount, $100 million is not going to support a lot of workers for a long time and we'll extend unemployment to the workers as well. But that was a concession.

And the chairman of BP was doing really well by issuing an apology until he stumbled over the small people, which perhaps will give him a pass because he is Swedish. I'm not sure.

BAIER: So after what pundits from both sides and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle called a pretty lackluster speech from the Oval Office, was this day a big win for the president and administration?

KRAUTHAMMER: Absolutely. But in terms of a very specific task, meaning getting the money from the company so it doesn't come out of American tax money, yes. In some way it partially redeems what was a disastrous speech last night.

BAIER: From lackluster to disastrous. Erin, your thoughts?

ERIN BILLINGS, ROLL CALL: I agree it was a good day for the president. And it was also a good day for BP. They owned the tragedy and stepped up to say here is what we'll do. Agreeing to suspend dividends was very significant. I think had they gone forward with them it would have been politically a disaster, from a public relations standpoint it would have been a disaster.

I think it's interesting today when the president went off-script and he started to talk about the shrimpers and the people that would be affected by or are already being affected by this disaster. We saw the human element we didn't see it last night. He tried to inspire at the end, but I don't think he connected. Today I thought he did when he went off script.

So all in all, it was a very good day for the president. And I think BP did what it had to do, and I think, you know, frankly they will be credited for it.

BAIER: This is day 58, Steve. There are Republicans out with a video about why did it take so long for you to sit down with BP executives. After this, the results, does all of that go away?

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: No. I think this is a short-term, ephemeral win for the president. He seems to -- these seem to be real accomplishments that will help the people in the gulf. The system they set up, at least it's designed sounds like it's one that will expedite the claims process.

BAIER: Overseen by the current pay czar Kenneth Feinberg who will oversee the independent escrow account.

HAYES: It sounds, at least in design again, like it will expedite the processes.

But there are issues that still need to be worked out between BP and the administration. A lot of what was discussed today at the White House had been figured out in advance. One thing that was the snag was the $100 million fund, voluntary fund, payment to a foundation that will be used to compensate deepwater oil rig workers.

It's very specific language. And BP made clear they don't want to accept responsibility or liability for the workers and their compensation because of what they're agreeing to pay. So they say look, this is voluntary. We're doing it because we're a good corporate citizen, not because we're at fault for what the administration decided on the moratorium.

And those issues had not been ironed out in advance of the meeting, and I think the president basically sprang this on BP and they had to figure out how do we respond to this? There were initial side meetings and this is what they agreed to.

But I think we're likely to hear in the next couple of days lots of back-and-forthing about that specific issue.

BAIER: So Charles, is the big loser today British pensioners who have been complaining about pressure on BP and the concern of possibly the company going belly up if it's pressured too much?

KRAUTHAMMER: As well as the 40 percent of BP shareholders who are Americans. So it isn't only a boot on the neck of the British pensioner, as one of the British politicians it, it's also going to be damaging here.

However, BP is acting in what it sees as its own interest. It sees itself, it's a rich company with reserves of over 18 billion barrels. At the current prices it's over $1 trillion. So it's got money if it can get to it in the future. It has to get through the cash flow crisis now.

So its calculation is it has to win back public approval or it can't continue. It will pay a price, hopefully, it thinks, a finite one which it can shoulder.

BAIER: Last word, Erin. No one on Capitol Hill is defending BP, but there is an overall concern about making sure the company continues.

BILLINGS: That is right. Obama said it today. It's in everyone's interest that BP survives. They employ thousands of workers in this country. So no one wants to see them to go belly up, for sure, but they want people affected compensated and compensated for the damages that they have incurred.

BAIER: Log on to the home page on Get ready for the online show at 7:00 eastern.

Next up, the president pushes energy legislation as the oil flows in the gulf.



PRESIDENT OBAMA: Last year the House of Representatives acted on these principles by passing a strong and comprehensive energy and climate bill, a bill that finally makes clean energy the profitable kind of energy for America's businesses.

Now, there are costs associated with this transition, and there are some who believe that we can't afford those costs right now. I say we can't afford not to change the way we produce and use energy.

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER, R-TENN.: I think he missed an opportunity in terms of looking toward the future. He mentioned the climate bill. Of course that is the cap-and-trade bill that passed the House, which can't pass the Senate.


BAIER: Republicans were scratching their heads, Democrats were scratching their heads about the president's effort to pitch climate change legislation. He didn't talk about carbon or greenhouse gases, global warming or cap-and-trade in that speech. Not really specific.

He did embrace the left, more left, Waxman-Markey bill that the House passed instead of the Senate bill. He said he's open to ideas.

What about all of this? We're back with our panel. Erin, it seemed like there was confusion on Capitol Hill about what exactly the White House is pitching.

BILLINGS: I think the president tried to keep it vague, because as we know members of Congress don't like to get too much direction. Of course, they criticize the president when they don't get enough direction, but that's probably for another panel.

There was some confusion. We saw Democratic leaders embracing what the president said. Nancy Pelosi obviously has made climate change her legacy project and she is excited about this.

But the House bill isn't going anywhere. It is not going to pass the Senate. There is not appetite for cap-and-trade. Republicans certainly don't like it and a lot of Democrats don't like it. The question is where do we go from here. And in my mind comprehensive climate change is off the table in 2010. It's possible we'll do something smaller. Senate Democrats will huddle tomorrow to see what approach they will pursue, and they'll probably target something with bipartisan support, maybe nuclear or clean energy items.

But in terms of comprehensive, I just don't --

BAIER: So you are saying a grab bag of ideas? Senator Byron Dorgan, a Democrat, says if you bring climate change to the Senate floor right now I don't think there are 60 votes for climate change bill. That's about as plain as it can be.

HAYES: There aren't. There is no question that there aren't those kind of votes now. The real question -- and, you know, look after health care, who is to say what is really dead or not?

BAIER: We declared it dead numerous times.

HAYES: People thought it was dead a dozen times and it wasn't. What some senators I talked to today on the Republican side are concerned about is that the Democrats get together, as Erin said, and try to do something small ball. And then in a lame duck session try to beef it up.

How big they make it or significant the changes, it won't be Waxman-Markey, but it could be big and they think it could be damaging after the November elections. That's problematic.

It's one thing that I think has the Republican leadership wanting to make sure that every Republican is on board in blocking this and not allowing for any kind of a compromise, even on the small ball issues.

BAIER: Charles, Senate Democrats are scheduled to meet tomorrow to talk about strategy. The president is set to meet at the White House with the bipartisan group of senators next week on this. The White House appears ready to push this thing forward hard. And it feels a lot like the beginning of health care when they were talking that way.

KRAUTHAMMER: Except the calendar is much compressed. With health care he did at the beginning of the presidency and it took almost a year and he had all the stops and starts, but in the end he got it. You don't have that time between now and November, and after November it's totally out of the question because they'll lose their majority or have --

BAIER: He can do it in a lame duck session.

KRAUTHAMMER: I can't imagine they'd risk something that large with members of Congress who've been voted out.

BAIER: This is an administration that risked reconciliation with not a single Republican vote on health care that is one sixth of the U.S. economy.

KRAUTHAMMER: But this would be a bridge even farther. This would be revolutionizing our energy economy with the votes, members of the Congress who just lost the election. That's really stretching our democratic understanding of how you run the country.

If he does that, I think the Republicans will have a strong issue in 2012. I think his legislative divisions are more narrow than that.

But I love how he tried to sell it, with the war analogies, and how he said if we can land a man on the moon we can change the economy. It's the particularly hubris of a politician that believes from out of Washington you can legislative decree a scientific breakthrough. And it's particularly ironic coming from a man who is killing our program to actually return a man to the moon. That's takes chutzpah to invoke that as the analogy. You can't do it out of Washington. We had war on poverty and a war on cancer. We knew how to get to the moon because we knew physics. It's rather simple Newtonian physics. We had no idea how to do organisms as complicated as cancer cells or poverty, which involves complicated social interactions. We have no idea how to create renewable energy as efficient as the fossil energy we have now, and you can't invent it and will it by an act of Congress.

BAIER: Ten seconds. Does it hurt Democrats, especially in coal states if they keep this push?

BILLINGS: Well, if they keep the push for comprehensive, yes, it very well could. But those are the very Democrats that will say no. So they may have an issue to run on and say I'm opposed to this and you need people like me who are going to say no.

Again, I don't think they will go comprehensive. I think they go targeted energy reform, things everybody can get behind.