Sen. Alexander asks: “What was the president’s cleanup plan, and where were the personnel and equipment to implement it?”

On C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers,” says since 1990, the president has had legal, ultimate responsibility for cleaning up spills

Posted on May 28, 2010

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, was this week’s guest on C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers,” which airs this Sunday at 10 a.m., and discussed the Gulf oil spill, bipartisanship, and the flooding in Tennessee. Click here to watch the interview on C-SPAN’s website; below are excerpts from the interview:

On the Gulf oil spill:

  • “I asked my staff to go look at the law and see what the law says, and what [it] says is that we’ve faced this before.  After the Exxon Valdez spill in 1990, Congress passed the Oil Pollution Act. It says the president shall ‘ensure’ that the oil spill is cleaned up, and that he has ‘personnel and equipment’ to do it. That’s the president’s responsibility. So, it’s my responsibility as senator to ask the questions, ‘What was the president’s plan? And where were the personnel and the equipment necessary to implement that plan?’

On Tennessee flooding and the EPA “lead paint rule”:

  • “There’s a law that states, basically, that if a house, school, or childcare center was built before 1978, it probably had lead paint in it, so contractors need to know what they are doing when they disturb lead paint to prevent possible health risks - especially for pregnant women and children. That sounds pretty good. Well, EPA comes along and says, ‘Okay, to implement that law, contractors are going to have to get certified or we’re going to fine them $37,500 a day for every violation. In Tennessee, we had a flood – the biggest natural disaster since President Obama took office. In Nashville alone, we’ve got 11,000 homes that need to be rebuilt and there are only three EPA trainers in the entire state to certify these contractors, painters, and repairmen. So, Senator Collins and I have asked for a delay of implementation of that rule until we can get enough training classes so we don’t make fixing your house up, flooded or unflooded, more expensive or slower.” 

On the president and bipartisanship:

  • “Presidential leadership should be reserved for only a handful of truly presidential issues. Number one is jobs. Number two is debt. Number three is the war on terror. And if [President Obama] could focus on those three and not do much more – except if he had to, such as with the Gulf oil spill – the country would be better off.”
  • “Now, give credit to [President Obama’s] education secretary and energy secretary for reaching out and giving me a chance to work with them. In terms of the White House, I’m puzzled. Either the White House doesn’t want to work in bipartisan way on the big issues or it doesn’t know how. For instance, the president came to see [Republican senators] this week. We were delighted to see him. We always like to see him, but he didn’t say why he was coming; he didn’t tell us what he was going to talk about. Like, ‘I’m sending troops down to the border. What do you think about it?’ I think he and Senator McCain could have jointly said that. McCain actually said it’s an important first step. So there wasn’t any real effort to involve the other party in the way I always did as governor, and I guess they won’t pay any attention to us until we have more senators, and then they‘ll have to.”
  • On the big issues – on health care, on so-called financial regulation, on the stimulus bill – the White House has been absolutely tone-deaf to bipartisanship. The president has not had a single meeting – I believe this was reported in one of the newspapers – with [Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell] since he’s been president.  One-on-one.  President Johnson, who had bigger Democratic majorities than President Obama does, telephoned Everett Dirksen, the Republican minority leader, every afternoon at 5:00 and had the Civil Rights bill written in his office.  So, we know how to be bipartisan. I’m not sure the White House does.”

On debt and the economy:

  • “In our country, we move in big waves.  Back in the early 70s, it was environmentalism. We weren’t doing anything in the 60s, and all of a sudden people were recycling and we had Earth Day and everybody became environmentally conscious. All of a sudden in the early 1970s, we pass the early Clean Air and Clean Water Acts.  I think the same thing is about to happen with debt. We see what’s happening in Greece; we see what’s happening in Europe. People are afraid, older people especially, that we’re spending so much in Washington that there won’t be money left for Medicare and for Social Security, and grandparents are saying, “My grandkids aren’t going to be able to afford this.” So I see a huge movement in the country that’s saying to us, ‘You’d better deal with this debt,’ and we’re going to have to do it, and I believe we’ll have to do it as soon as possible.”

On the November elections:

  • “I feel the same sort of mood out in the country that I felt in the year that most of your viewers won’t remember. It was 1974 and I was a very young Republican and I got the Republican nomination [for Tennessee governor] and it was the Watergate year.  And in Tennessee, people were so mad at Republicans, they came down out of the mountains to find out who the Republicans were so they could vote against them. I think people are going to come down out of the mountains to vote against the rascals in Washington and most of the rascals in Washington are Democrats, by a large majority – and so Republicans are going to do very well.” 
  • “… [P]eople will make a choice on Election Day. They’ll look at Washington and say, ‘Do you think Washington needs a check and a balance on spending, taxes, and debt?’ And I think more people will say the only way we can get that is to elect more Republican senators and they’re going to send a lot up here… and they’re going to come from all directions. We have more good candidates this year than we’ve had in a long, long time.”