President Obama was "in listening mode" when he met privately with Gov. Charlie Crist, CFO Alex Sink, U.S. Sen. George LeMieux and Congressman Jeff Miller Tuesday in a covered pavillion off the Pensacola Beach pier, Sink said.
Sitting at picnic tables in a sweltering morning meeting, Sink said Obama told the group at the that the best scenario is "we’re probably going to lose this summer season -- so let's get these businesses through the summer, get the oil stopped and spend the winter going through cleanup."
"It’s the most optimistic assessment,'' Sink said, noting that the president appeared prepared respond. "He was very well informed....To me, the most significant thing was he had Valerie Jarrett, (the president's top senior advisor) next to him.''
The group was briefed by Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, who said he expects the recovery efforts to capture 80-90 percent of the oil by the end of the month, and the relief well is on schedule to be completed by the second week of August.
Meanwhile, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission has been named to manage the vessels of opportunity program and a group of skimmer boats are being deployed from West Louisiana towards Destin and to open a new command center in Tallahassee.
Allen reported that they are attempting to improve communications between local governments and the Coast Guard's unified control center in Mobile by appointing a deputy for each of the states, including Florida.
"I was very encouraged,'' Sink said. The claims process, which Sink and others have blasted as ineffective and failing, will be revamped under an administration plan to designate an independent special master to pay claims, similar to the approach used for 911 claims, Sink said.
"I told him I've been working with small business for 20 years because they need cash in the bank,'' she said. She told the president about the stories she has heard from business owners, such as bait and tackle owner Tommy Holmes who filed a claim for $73,000 but was offered only $17,000.
She urged the president to speak to business lenders, the mortgage lenders, the business lenders and ask them to "offer some relief in times of need.'' She has asked him to "talk to the regulators about not dinging their banks because collateral will be declining." Obama told her that the White House cannot influence regulators, so Sink said she will appeal to the regulators herself.
Obama then spoke to naval students at Naval Air Station and vowed to "do anything and everything," including calling on the military to combat the oil disaster.
Obama's visit comes just hours before his Oval Office address to the nation tonight at 8 p.m.