Just a phone call away

JUST A PHONE CALL AWAY…. While the word “ass” continues to be the most talked-about aspect of President Obama’s interview with Matt Lauer yesterday, a separate exchange is starting to gain ground.

LAUER: Have you spoken directly to Tony Hayward, the CEO of BP?

OBAMA: I have not spoken to him directly, and here’s the reason: because my experience is when you talk to a guy like a BP CEO, he’s going to say all the right things to me. I’m not interested in words. I’m interested in actions…. And we are communicating to him every single day exactly what we expect of him and what we expect of that administration.

LAUER: In all due respect, that feels strange to me, that here we’ve got the CEO of a company that’s responsible for the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, and I think — I’m just curious why you didn’t pick up — you wouldn’t pick up the phone and in some ways just give him a piece of your mind.

OBAMA: Well, look, this has sort of been, this has been the main critique of the administration is giving a piece of my mind to these guys. Look, I would love to vent. I would love to just shout and holler, because I’m thinking about this day in and day out. But my main job is to solve the problem.

That struck me as pretty compelling. The president could call Hayward just to vent, but there are far better uses of Obama’s time.

If the president hadn’t talked to Thad Allen on the phone, that would be bizarre. If the president hadn’t talked to Steven Chu on the phone, that’d be odd, too. But what does Hayward have to tell Obama that he couldn’t get, more reliably, from someone else?

Nevertheless, Republicans seem excited about this. Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele told Fox News this morning that Obama wants to “sit down and talk face-to-face with Ahmadinejad,” but not Hayward. Former half-term Gov. Sarah Palin (R) said on Facebook that Obama should have talked to Hayward directly because the administration has a “responsibility” to “verify what BP reports.”

In Palin’s mind, the president can fact-check BP claims by talking to BP’s chief executive — as if Hayward’s line will contradict his company’s line. What an insightful suggestion.

And in some ways, I suspect that’s precisely the reason Obama hasn’t bothered. Hayward has already proven himself to be unreliable and irresponsible; so what would be the point in calling him? If the president wants dishonest corporate spin, he can read BP’s press releases. But since he doesn’t want dishonest corporate spin, Obama is more inclined to talk to Allen, Chu, regional governors, and FEMA officials. What’s Hayward going to tell him that Obama couldn’t hear from someone more competent and less inclined to deceive?

As John Dickerson noted, it’s not as if an Obama-Hayward phone call is going to produce “a new strategy for plugging the well in a one-to-one chat.”

Nevertheless, given Republican whining, expect to hear more about this.