Well, that didn’t take long. Amid signs of consternation from Republican House members who hadn’t listened to some talk radio hosts and callers who had already picked up what they thought was an emerging party line, Rep. Joe Barton has apologized for apologizing to BP CEO Tony Hayward for what Barton called a White House “shakedown” of the company in getting BP to agree to a $20 billion Gulf oil spill damage escrow fund:
“I apologize for using the term ‘shakedown’ with regard to yesterday’s actions at the White House in my opening statement this morning, and I retract my apology to BP. 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. 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.”
What is most notable here is how some lockstep ideological partisans immediately picked up Barton’s line, blasting the White House for doing what many — including Republicans — had demanded Barack Obama do…get tougher with BP and hold the company accountable. In one sense, today’s minifirestorm has been a case study in how what is perceived as a partisan attack line gets started and quickly spreads.
Barton’s statement was pretty startling — almost shocking — until it came out that he has gotten big bucks from the oil industry over the years.
So now it’ll be time for those who were using his line to backtrack unless the talk show hosts keep using his line of attack. In which case, you’ll hear about it from talk show callers and read it on the Internet — how the mean, old White House bullied that responsible, candid corporation called British Petroleum in yet another sign of how American government is looking like a fascist/communist (pick your favorite buzzword) government.
Read our EARLIER POST HERE on this controversy. While some GOPers echoed his line, there was anger among House Republicans and some wanted him to step down from his positions in the House.
Why the quick action by Barton, who probably will have to visit an Urgent Care center for a twisted arm?
Aside from possibly facing consequences from House Republicans, and possibly his voters at home, a new poll taken after Obama’s big Oval Office speech finds that although he gets lousy poll numbers on his handling of the oil spill guess who comes in worse?
And the poll shows people don’t think Obama has been tough enough with BP — and that 80 percent favor the fund:
Six in ten Americans disapprove of how President Barack Obama’s handling the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a jump from last month, according to a new national poll.
A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey also indicates that vast majority of the public disapproves of how BP has handled the environmental disaster and two-thirds say making a profit rather than cleaning up the spill is oil giant’s top priority.
Fifty-nine percent of people questioned say they disapprove of how the president is dealing with the spill, up eight points from May. Forty-one percent say they approve of how Obama’s handling the crisis, down five points from last month.
While the president’s numbers are dropping, he still fares better than the federal government. Only one in four give the federal government a thumbs up on how it’s dealing with the oil spill, with 74 percent saying they disapprove.
…But according to the poll, Americans disagree with Barton.
Eighty-two percent approve of the creating of a fund of billions of dollars to compensate workers and businesses affected by the spill.
The survey indicates that two thirds of Americans think the president hasn’t been tough enough in dealing with BP, with one in four saying Obama’s been about right and five percent saying he’s been too tough on the oil corporation.
Only 13 percent of Americans approve of how BP’s handling the oil spill, down 11 points from last month, with 87 percent saying they disapprove, up an equal amount from May.
Just over half questioned say they trust the federal government more than BP to improve the situation in the Gulf of Mexico, with 32 percent saying they have more faith in BP and 12 percent say they trust neither Washington or the oil corporation.
“Most Republicans say they trust BP more than the government, but only about one in four independents and Democrats agree with that view,” Holland says. “That’s not to say that Republicans like BP – only 13% of GOP respondents approve of how the oil company is handling the situation in the Gulf and six in ten Republicans think that BP will be more concerned about the bottom line than about cleaning up the Gulf.”
Showing just how involved Republican leadership was in damage control over Barton’s comments today, the retraction was forwarded to the media by House Minority Leader John Boehner’s office. Moments after Boehner’s office publicized Barton’s retraction, Boehner, Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Conference Chairman Mike Pence (R-Ind.) sent out a statement condemning Barton.
“Congressman Barton’s statements this morning were wrong,” the GOP leadership trio said in a rare joint statement. “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. The families and businesspeople in the Gulf region want leadership, accountability and action from BP and the Administration.”
Republicans, particularly Gulf state lawmakers, had fumed all afternoon over the comments, and some wanted Boehner to force him down as the top Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee.
“I don’t feel like apologies are in order,” Rep. Mike Burgess (R-Texas) said of Barton’s remarks to BP CEO Tony Hayward at the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee hearing. Louisiana Republican Steve Scalise agreed: “I don’t think anybody should be apologizing to Tony Hayward. I think he should be apologizing to the Gulf States.”
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said whether Barton is forced aside is “up to the Republicans.”
In other words: Pelosi felt she didn’t have to twist in the political daggers Barton did it himself by mouth, the GOP would pay a price, and if Republicans reigned him in it would be a messy embarrassment.
Barton, who headed into Minority Leader John Boehner’s office on Thursday, said calls for his resignation are “news to me.”
Asked whether he planned to stay put as top Republican on the committee, he declared “Damn straight.”
Josh Marshall wonders if Barton will survive in his House post — and predicts that Barton will be used by Democrats running for Congress as a symbol of what could happen if the GOP wins back the House.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.