In Gulf, Obama says he's committed to full cleanup from oil spill

President Obama commended the Coast Guard's efforts to stop the worst oil spill in American history but said the job isn’t over.

“I made a commitment in my visits here that I was going to stand with you not just until the well was closed, and not just until the oil was cleaned up, but until you have fully recovered from the damage that has been done,” Obama said during a speech Saturday in Panama City Beach, Fla. “And that is a commitment my administration is going to keep.”

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The president has faced criticism from conservative commentators for encouraging Americans to vacation in the Gulf states while he himself only makes brief forays to the region.

Obama brought his wife, Michelle, and daughter Sasha for a short vacation during this trip to Florida. The visit is expected to last about 27 hours, with the first family returning to the White House on Sunday night. Observers are now questioning whether there will be any images of the Obamas swimming in the Gulf.

Obama told pool reporters after his speech that he will go swimming but away from the eyes of the media. The president joked that last time he went swimming without his shirt on he wound up on the covers of magazines.

Earlier on Saturday, Obama and the first lady first met with small-business owners at a local Coast Guard station where they discussed long-term restoration plans for the region. Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who’s running for Senate as an independent, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and Panama City Beach Mayor Gayle Oberst also attended the meeting.

During his speech to reporters, Obama said the small-business owners he met with had yet to be compensated by BP’s $20 billion special fund, which was set up to pay compensation claims stemming from the disaster.

“I want to be clear about this: Any delays — by BP or by those managing the new fund — are unacceptable, and I will keep pushing to get these claims expedited,” he said.

Obama praised the Coast Guard’s response to the oil spill, which he noted has included more than 7,000 vessels and some 47,000 personnel. 

“I know that two cutters — the Aspen and the Juniper — are in port here this week after tours skimming and performing other recovery work,” he said. “Many have toiled day and night — spending weeks, and months away from their families — to stop the leak, remove the oil and protect waters and coastlines. So I want thank all those who continue to participate in this effort.”

His message to the rest of the country was simple: “Come on down and visit.”

This story was updated at 2:05 p.m.