WASHINGTON — Rep. Joe Barton created a political furor Thursday by first apologizing to BP CEO Tony Hayward at a morning hearing on the Gulf oil spill — for what the Texas Republican called a White House “shakedown” that created a $20 billion escrow fund — and then being forced to retract it after coming under intense GOP pressure that almost stripped him of his position as ranking member on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Barton issued a statement late Thursday afternoon retracting the apology he made in the morning at an Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing — a statement that mobilized Republicans as well as Democrats, including Vice President Joe Biden.
“I apologize for using the term ‘shakedown’ with regard to yesterday’s actions at the White House in my opening statement this morning,” said Barton, “and I retract my apology to BP.”
President Barack Obama and administration officials met with BP executives and hammered out an agreement for a $20 billion escrow fund over three years to compensate victims of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
“As I told my colleagues yesterday and said again this morning, BP should bear the full financial responsibility for the accident on their lease in the Gulf of Mexico,” said Barton in his apology for his apology. “BP should fully compensate those families and businesses that have been hurt by this accident. BP and the federal government need to stop the leak, clean up the damage, and take whatever steps necessary to prevent a similar accident in the future.”
“I regret the impact that my statement this morning implied that BP should not pay for the consequences of their decisions and actions in this incident,” Barton said.
In a highly unusual joint statement, House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio, Minority Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia and Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence of Indiana said, “Congressman Barton’s statements this morning were wrong. BP itself has acknowledged that responsibility for the economic damages lies with them and has offered an initial pledge of $20 billion dollars for that purpose.”
Many Republican lawmakers, including Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida, who represents Pensacola, where oil from the BP spill has washed ashore, called for Barton to be stripped of his powerful committee position.
“Mr. Barton’s remarks are out of touch with this tragedy, and I feel his comments call into question his judgment and ability to serve in a leadership position on the Energy and Commerce Committee,” Miller said.
Boehner and Cantor met with Barton about his remarks and the negative image they created for Republicans.
“This was not helpful,” said a top Republican aide who wasn’t authorized to speak on the matter and requested anonymity. “If he hadn’t apologized, he likely would have lost his job.”