GOP congressman apologizes to BP for ‘$20 billion shakedown’
UPDATE: Under fire from even members of his own party, Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) retracted his apology to BP over President Barack Obama’s insistence that the company set up a $20 billion escrow fund to pay damages related to the Gulf oil spill.
“I want to be absolutely clear that I think BP is responsible for this accident, should be held responsible and should in every way do everything possible to make good on the consequences that have resulted from this accident,” Barton said Thursday, as quoted at CBS News. “And if anything I said this morning has been misconstrued to the opposite effect I want to apologize for that misconstrued misconstruction.”
Following his statement earlier Thursday that the $20 billion fund amounted to a “shakedown” of BP, Barton found himself under attack not only from Vice-President Joe Biden and other Democrats, but from other Republicans as well. A Florida Republican has called for Barton to step down as the ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee.
A Republican lawmaker from a district affected by the oil spill called on Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) to step down as the ranking member of his committee.
Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), whose Pensacola district is among the most affected areas in the Gulf by the oil spill, condemned Barton for apologizing to BP CEO Tony Hayward during a committee meeting on Thursday.
“I condemn Mr. BartonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s statement. Mr. BartonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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 on the Energy and Commerce Committee,” Miller said in a statement. “He should step down as ranking member of the Committee.Ã¢â‚¬Â
ORIGINAL STORY FOLLOWS BELOW
We’re sorry that the government wants to penalize you for creating the worst environmental disaster in the history of the United States, one Republican congressman has suggested to BP.
During a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday, Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) called the $20 billion escrow fund that BP has promised to establish a “shakedown” and apologized to BP Tony Hayward.
“I’m speaking totally for myself and I’m not speaking for the Republican Party and I’m not speaking for anybody in the House of Representatives but myself, but I’m ashamed of what happened in the White House yesterday,” Barton began.
“I think it’s a tragedy of the first proportion that a private corporation can be subjected to what I would characterize as a shakedown,” he continued, “in this case, a $20 billion shakedown with the Attorney General of the United States — who is legitimately conducting a criminal investigation and has every right to do so to protect the interests of the American people — participating in what amounts to a $20 billion slush fund that’s unprecedented in our nation’s history, that’s got no legal standing, and that I think sets a terrible precedent for the future.”
“I’m only speaking for myself,” Barton repeated. “I’m not speaking for anybody else, but I apologize. I do not want to live in a country where any time a citizen or a corporation does something that is legitimately wrong and is subject to some sort of political pressure that is, again, in my words, amounts to a shakedown. So I apologize.”
In a statement, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs blasted Barton following the hearing:
What is shameful is that Joe Barton seems to have more concern for big corporations that caused this disaster than the fishermen, small business owners and communities whose lives have been devastated by the destruction. Congressman Barton may think that a fund to compensate these Americans is a Ã¢â‚¬ËœtragedyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢, but most Americans know that the real tragedy is what the men and women of the Gulf Coast are going through right now. Members from both parties should repudiate his comments.
Barton, who was chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee when the Republicans held a majority in the House and is now its ranking member, is well known for his close ties to the energy industry. According to OpenSecrets.org, over the course of his career Barton’s top industry donor has been the oil and gas industry, for a total of nearly $1.5 million in contributions.
Barton has almost always stuck by his donors. A profile at Texans for Public Justice states, “Barton stuck provisions in the 2003 energy bill to give the Dallas-Fort Worth region more time to flunk clean-air standards. The bill failed because of another Barton-championed provision to shield the petrochemical industry from liability for the carcinogenic gasoline additive MTBE. … Westar Energy got Barton to insert special provisions into 2002 energy legislation to let Westar split off its regulated utility from its heavily indebted other businesses–a split that would facilitate saddling ratepayers with $1 billion WestarÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s non-utility debts.”
Barton was also an early global warming skeptic. In July 2005, the Washington Post’s David Ignatius commented, “I can’t remember anything quite as nasty — or as politically skewed — as Rep. Joe Barton’s recent attack on scientists whose views on global warming he doesn’t like.”
Barton had sent letters to three climate change scientists “demanding information about what he claimed were ‘methodological flaws and data errors’ in their studies of global warming.” The bullying tone of these letters was so pronounced that even a fellow Republican who chaired the House Committee on Science cautioned, “My primary concern about your investigation is that its purpose seems to be to intimidate scientists rather than to learn from them, and to substitute Congressional political review for scientific peer review. This would be pernicious.”
This video is from MSNBC’s News Live, broadcast June 17, 2010.