Republican Rep. Joe Barton at today’s hearing has said he is “ashamed” that the White House did a “shakedown” of BP yesterday by getting a pledge from the oil company to set up a $20 billion escrow fund.
Do I hear a collective AWWWWWWWWW from most readers?
So here it is: the real victim in all of this is BP. Watch Barton:
UPDATE 2 Barton has apologized for apologizing to BP.
UPDATED1: Several news sources now report that many House Republicans are furious over Barton’s comments and some want him to step down from his post. The Politico:
The Hill also has this post about GOPers trying to distance themselves from Barton.
Republicans, particularly Gulf state lawmakers, are furious at Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) and may ask him to cede his job as top Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee in the wake of his apology to BP Thursday.
“People are calling for his head,” said a GOP member of the committee.
Indeed, Rep. Jeff Miller, a Florida Republican, was the first in his party to call for Barton to resign as the ranking Republican on the committee after hearing Barton call the $20 billion cleanup fund a White House “shakedown.”
….Talk on the House floor at a Thursday morning vote already centered on the potential fallout of Barton’s apology. Some Republicans, led by Miller, are calling for him to lose his status on the committee, but no formal decision has been made.
“It’s fair to say there were some people who were very upset,” added a GOP leadership aide.
…Lawmakers were “hunkered down” in Boehner’s office to discuss the flap, according to the member who said people were calling for Barton’s resignation.
[Back to the original text of this post:]
Meanwhile, he is not the only one in the the GOP in now saying the White House is picking on British Petroleum — and that the company whose statements have repeatedly been at varience with later reported faces is the real victim in the biggest oil spill in American history — which could shape up as as the biggest ever in history.
And yours truly is not the only one stunned by his statement. It was notable to other journalists as well — and is sparking an increasing number of news stories.
Such as the Dallas Morning News:
Rep. Joe Barton , R-Arlington, apologized to BP CEO Tony Hayward on Thursday morning for the “political pressure” his company is facing.
Barton condemned the White House’s handling of a meeting Wednesday with BP officials, in which President Barack Obama pushed the company to create a $20 billion escrow account for damage claims from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The congressman called the account a “slush fund.”
Barton made the remarks at a House Energy and Commerce committee hearing that is ongoing. Hayward is before the committee to testify about his company’s handling of spill.
“I am ashamed of what happened at the White House yesterday,” said Barton, the top Republican on the committee. “It is a tragedy in the first proportion that a private corporation can be subjected to what I would characterize as a shakedown – in this case a $20 billion shakedown.”
Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., said he could “not disagree more strongly” with Barton’s statement.
“This is not a shakedown,” Markey said. “This is the American government and President Obama ensuring that this company is held accountable…In my opinion, this is the American government working at its best.”
McClatchy Newspapers notes other Republicans echoed the same line:
His opinions aren’t those of the Republican Party, Barton said, they were his alone. But other GOP members of Congress on Thursday echoed his remarks. Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., who heads the House’s conservative Republican Study Commission, said there was “no legal authority for the President to compel a private company to set up or contribute to an escrow account.”
“BP&’s reported willingness to go along with the White House’s new fund suggests that the Obama Administration is hard at work exerting its brand of Chicago-style shakedown politics,” he said in a statement. “These actions are emblematic of a politicization of our economy that has been borne out of this Administration’s drive for greater power and control.”
But they were countered by Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., who said he disagreed “in “the strongest possible terms.” He called the fund an admirable effort by the federal government to “protect the most vulnerable citizens we have in our country, the residents of the Gulf.”
“It is in fact President Obama ensuring that a company that has despoiled the Gulf is made accountable for the harm done to our people,” Markey said.
And a liberal think tank with ties to the Obama administration, the Center for American Progress, noted that Barton himself has long been the beneficiary of campaign contributions from BP employees: $27,350 since 1989.
There is REAL political peril for GOPers in this — particularly this age in which “high concept,” easy to grasp political demonization has almost become an end in itself.
And there were signs a top Republican sees the danger, Greg Sargeant reports:
So how bad is it for the GOP that select Republicans are slamming the White House for successfully pressuring BP to create a $20 billion escrow fund, calling it variously a “slush fund” and a “shakedown”?
Bad enough for John Boehner to distance himself from those making such remarks…
In addition to Barton, House conservatives on the Republican Study Committee have derided the BP fund as a “Chicago-style shakedown.” Michele Bachmann has ripped the escrow account as a “redistribution-of-wealth fund,” though she later backtracked.
Dems are going to be aggressively making the case that Republicans have crossed a line with these comments into something resembling outright collusion with BP against the interests of the American people, since if BP isn’t made to pay damages, the taxpayer could be on the hook.
PREDICTION: Look for Rush, Sean et. al to back Barton and others on this and those GOPers now slamming the White House start to have to blast the White House as well. If this happens, expect to see Democrats pick up this real, shiny, new, easy to grasp political football and run with it towards election day.
The optics could not be worse for the GOP — unless Americans are suddenly going to believe the crisis is about BP being pushed around by a mean, old White House. Just read these parts of the CBS report:
BP CEO Tony Hayward is in the midst of a harsh grilling today on Capitol Hill, where he is testifying House Committee on Energy and Commerce hearing on “The Role of BP in the Deepwater Horizon Explosion and Oil Spill.”
But not long after the hearing began, Hayward got something not many expected from lawmakers: An apology….
At the hearing, Rep. Ed Markey (D – MA) said he “could not disagree more strongly” with Barton’s comments.
“Not only is the compensation fund that was created yesterday at the White House in an agreement reached between BP and President Obama not a slush fund and not a shakedown, rather it was the government of the United States worked to protect the most vulnerable citizens that we have in this country right now – the residents of the Gulf,” he said.
“American citizens are being harmed,” Markey added. “We cannot wait, as unfortunately so many victims of the Exxon Valdez had to wait years to see those families compensated. We can’t lose sight of fact that the 1984 Bhophal disaster and lawsuits related to it, were only settled last week. We have to make sure American citizens are protected.”
“The families of the Gulf will be crushed financially unless this compensation fund is put in place,” said Markey, arguing that the history of Gulf families will be “permanently altered” without action.
Markey added that the creation of the slush fund reflected “American government working at its best” to ensure that families do not become “roadkill” as a result of corporate practices.
As Markey spoke, Barton leaned back in his chair reading what appeared to be the newspaper Investor’s Business Daily.
The Washington Post’s Dave Weigel suggests Republican conservatives are falling into a potential “trap.”
Conservatives are reacting instinctively, and the fact that “pay czar” Ken Feinberg will be running the fund leaves an immediate bad taste in their mouths. But Democrats see an opportunity here to discredit the GOP’s rhetoric in support of small government.
“Not only is the compensation fund that was created yesterday… not a slush fund, and not a shakedown,” said Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) speaking shortly after Barton, “rather it was the government of the United States working to protect the most vulnerable citizens we have in our country right now. It is BP’s spill, but it is America’s ocean.”
The Huffington Post notes that the White House was quick to respond to Barton’s comments:
And Democrats quickly jumped on the congressman’s remark, as well as those from other Republicans, as evidence of a lack of sensitivity for the victims of the spill.
“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,” said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.
“Congressman Barton may think that a fund to compensate these Americans is a ‘tragedy’, 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.”
“While the President has worked to ensure that BP is held fully accountable to the families and small businesses of the Gulf, Republicans and Joe Barton are proving that they are only accountable to BP and the oil industry,” added DNC spokesman Hari Sevugan. “While the President has secured a guarantee of at least $20 billion for Gulf Coast residents, Republicans and Joe Barton have lined their pockets with BP contributions and stock dividends. While the President has gotten BP to rightfully apologize to the American people for their reckless behavior, their inexcusable response and their insulting approach, Republicans are apologizing to BP. Republicans could not have this more backward, and it raises serious questions as to why they are on the side of BP and the oil companies instead of that of the American people.”
Sam Stein’s piece also details the number of GOPers now blasting the White House for extracting the money pledge from BP:
Indeed, despite saying he was speaking on his own accord (and not on behalf of the Republican Party) but Barton was far from alone. The Republican Study Committee, a group of conservative members of the House, was even less diplomatic with a statement describing the Obama administration’s actions as a “Chicago-style political shakedown.”
“These actions are emblematic of a politicization of our economy that has been borne out of this Administration’s drive for greater power and control,” wrote chairman Tom Price (R-GA).
Price was echoed later in the evening by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), who said during an appearance on CNN that the president appears to be using BP as a “permanent ATM card,” with eyes on taking over “private industry.”
None of the critiques, however, matched the more philosophical pushback offered by Mississippi Governor Hailey Barbour, who objected to the idea of forcing BP to invest money for the purpose of paying out claims when the company could simply use that money to expand offshore drilling so that they could make money to pay out claims.
“If they take a huge amount of money and put it in an escrow account so they can’t use it to drill oil wells and produce revenue, are they going to be able to pay us?” Barbour told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
For certain, Barton, Bachman, Price and Barbour’s comments represented some of the more extreme remarks aired on the issue. But they aren’t isolated within the GOP tent, nor are they far removed from the sentiments of party leadership. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office has not commented directly on the escrow account, an aide confirms. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), meanwhile, immediately distanced himself from Barton, telling Fox News on Thursday that he didn’t know the context for the apology offered to the oil company, but “I’m glad BP has accepted responsibility for their actions.”
Some analysts contend America has moved to the right due to the Obama administration’s trials and tribulations and disappointment with it. It appears as if some Republicans have concluded it has moved FAR to the right — to the extent that as Americans watch the news from the Gulf and the consequences of the oil spill unfold they feel the real victim is poor BP and Tony Hayward and the real villain is the White House for demanding that people and businesses decimated by the oil spill get substantial help.
Now you can follow Joe Gandelman on Twitter.
UPDATE: A few other reactions…
—Crooks and Liars:
Does it surprise you that Joe Barton’s largest campaign contributors come from the oil & gas industries? It shouldn’t. Nice that he so blatantly shows his bias against Americans and the worst environmental disaster to hit this country and for his own craven interests. Frankly, I think Nancy Pelosi should make him apologize to Americans on the House floor since he was also the chief architect of the Cheney Oil Act that deregulated oil industry, waived EIRs and allowed this travesty to happen.
Barton’s in an incredibly safe district. And it’s not like more than a handful of House Republicans have anything to worry about this Fall. But I’m certain we’re going to hear these quotes again and again on the campaign trail this fall in other more middle of the road districts. In addition to the above, Barton also apologized to BP CEO Tony Hayward for what he had been put through yesterday by the president.
Demonizing particular individuals can go way too far. And we’re going to see a lot of it, just as we have in other calamities where the political breakdowns are different. But this almost literal groveling or knee-defense of BP executives is exactly what Democrats will want to show on a national level that Republicans are on the wrong side of this issue. And I suspect it will have a real effect, if only in strengthening a number of embattled incumbents.
At Tuesday’s House hearing on oversight of the oil industry, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Tex., the top Republican on the full Energy & Commerce Committee, had this to say:
“The five people most concerned about solving this problem [how to prevent another BP-like undersea blowout and oil spill] are probably sitting before us today.”
He’s right: More than likely, no one other than Exxon Mobil, ConocoPhillips, Chevron, BP America and Shell Oil Company has the technical expertise to put in place safety measures on their own drilling rigs. But it also got us thinking–How much do Barton and other lawmakers receive in campaign contributions from the oil and natural gas industry?
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, a campaign finance watchdog, Barton has taken $1.4 million from the industry–more than any other industry, in fact– since 1989, when the Center started tracking data. Over the course of his political career, some of his biggest contributors have included Anadarko Petroleum, Exxon Mobil and Valero Energy. (Note: most of the money is from political action committees and employees, not the companies themselves.)
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.