Sen. Nelson: ‘I Don’t Know That’ Obama Had the Constitutional Authority to Tell BP It Had to Surrender Stockholders' Money for Oil Spill Fund

By Nicholas Ballasy | June 18, 2010 | 3:24 PM EDT

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.)

( - Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) told he does "not know that" President Barack Obama had the constitutional authority to tell BP to surrender its stockholders' money into an escrow account outside the company's control that would be used to pay damages to victims of the Gulf oil spill. Moreover, Nelson said the constitutional question was “not going to get answered” because BP agreed to Obama’s demand.
In his Tuesday speech from the Oval Office, President Obama said, "Tomorrow, I will meet with the chairman of BP and inform him that he is to set aside whatever resources are required to compensate the workers and business owners who have been harmed as a result of his company’s recklessness."

On Wednesday, after President Obama met with BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg, he announced that the company had agreed to relinquish $20 billion to a fund that would be controlled by an independent, third party to pay compensation to people suffering damages as a result of the spill.

On Capitol Hill, asked Nelson, “Along the lines of the BP escrow accounts, does President Obama, in your mind, have the constitutional authority to have BP surrender the stockholders’ money without due process of law?”
Nelson said, “Well, I don’t know that he does have that. But, on the other hand, there’s a moral obligation that I think was pointed out and apparently BP has accepted that opportunity to put this money aside to deal with the compensation and the remediation and the security that that represents.
“So, we probably won’t have to have that test of whether or not there’s [constitutional] authority,” said Nelson. “Certainly, he had some moral authority that they responded to.”

Nelson, a member of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, also said that the question of Obama’s constitutional authority to demand the fund would not “get answered.”
“Obviously, there’s always a limit to whatever authority you have,” Nelson told “In this case, they [BP] went along with the number that’s been agreed to and he hasn’t asked for more than they were willing to give apparently, or agree to, and so that question is not going to get answered.”
Nelson said the president appeared strong and “connected the dots” during his first address from the Oval Office.
“I think he did a good job of connecting the dots,” said Nelson. “I think he had to connect the dots between what’s been done and to give people some background on all the activity that’s been ongoing, much of which doesn’t appear to the public because they don’t see it.”
“Number two, I think he had to point out that BP energy is on board to get things done but they’re not going to do it alone,” he said. “We’re – the government’s going to be working with them.”
“Thad Allen, the [Coast Guard] admiral, is very much involved,” said Nelson. “And then, finally, that BP would be on the hook for not only remediation of the Gulf but for compensation for all those who’ve lost their livelihood at least temporarily, hopefully not forever. So, I think he connected the dots there. Now there are others who, for political purposes, think he needed to appear strong, and what have you, and I, quite honestly, thought he did.”