Obama meets families of 11 killed in Gulf spill
President Barack Obama on Thursday consoledrelatives of the 11 workers killed in the Gulf oil spill disaster,acknowledging their "unimaginable grief" and personally assuringthe families that he will stand with them.
One man who lost a son asked Obama to support efforts to updatefederal law limiting the amount of money the families can collect.
"He told us we weren't going to be forgotten," said KeithJones, of Baton Rouge, La. "He just wanted us to know this wasn'tgoing to leave his mind and his heart."
Jones' 28-year-old son, Gordon, was working on the DeepwaterHorizon oil rig leased by BP PLC when it exploded April 20 and thensank in the Gulf of Mexico, causing the worst environmentaldisaster in U.S. history and creating one of Obama's biggestchallenges as president.
The younger Jones, who inspected mud that was pumped up from thedeep-sea well, left behind a wife, Michelle, and sons, a 2-year-oldand a month-old baby. Obama held the baby, Maxwell Gordon, who willnever know his father.
Amid the grandeur of the Red Room and the adjacent State DiningRoom, Obama addressed the grieving families as a group before heworked his way around the rooms, taking as much time as needed toconsole each family, Keith Jones said.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs released a briefstatement afterward that said Obama expressed his condolences andtold the families that he, first lady Michelle Obama and the entireadministration are "behind them and will be there long after thecameras are gone as they go through their unimaginable grief."Obama was joined by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, White Houseenergy adviser Carol Browner, senior adviser Valerie Jarrett andCoast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, who is overseeing the crisis for thegovernment.
Keith Jones said he and another son, Chris, asked Obama tosupport changing the Death on the High Seas Act, a 90-year-old lawthat limits liability for wrongful deaths more than three milesoffshore. He said the law is unfair and "not in keeping with theway we do things now."
Obama promised to look into the matter, Keith Jones said.
Jones is among four families that have sued Transocean Ltd., therig's owner, as well as BP and other companies involved in itsoperation. The cases seek unspecified damages and are pending infederal courts in Houston and New Orleans. They could beconsolidated with more than 150 other lawsuits filed by fishermen,businesses and property owners claiming economic losses because ofthe spill.
Obama put a temporary halt to such deep-sea oil drilling afterthe accident, but some lawmakers and others want him to lift it,arguing that the freeze could idle tens of thousands of oilindustry workers.
In his conversations with the families, Obama defended hisdecision to halt drilling, saying he wanted time to put additionalsafety measures in place to make sure something like the DeepwaterHorizon explosion doesn't happen again.
Congressional leaders, meanwhile, stepped up the pressure on BPto fully compensate economic victims of the spill.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said "every taxpayer in America mustknow that BP will be held accountable for what is owed." SenateRepublican leader Mitch McConnell agreed that BP must "clean upthe spill," but he also said Democrats shouldn't use the tragedyto campaign for energy legislation he contended would amount to a"national energy tax."