GOP leaders forced Rep. Barton to retract apology to BP

Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, accused the White House of conducting a "$20 billion shakedown" by requiring oil giant BP to establish a fund to compensate those hurt by the Gulf Coast oil spill.
By Aaron Blake and Paul Kane
Thursday, June 17, 2010; 5:11 PM

Under pressure from Republican leaders who threatened to remove him from a ranking committee position, Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.) late Thursday retracted his apology to BP CEO Tony Hayward for the way his company has been treated by the U.S. government -- a comment that had drawn heavy criticism from both parties.

Barton made that apology to Hayward in his opening statement Thursday morning before Hayward's testimony to the House subcommittee, in which Barton decried the Obama administration for pressuring BP to open a $20 billion escrow account and to suspend dividend payments for the rest of the year.

The ranking Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee said such arrangements have no legal basis, and that the political pressure exerted on the corporation in the midst of an investigation is a "tragedy of the first proportion."

"I'm ashamed of what happened in the White House yesterday," Barton said in the morning. "I apologize."

Barton called the escrow account, which will be distributed independently, a "slush fund" and said the situation amounted to a "shakedown" by the White House. He said if he, as a congressman, asked for something similar from a corporation he was investigating, he could go to jail.

Later Thursday, when House Republican leaders called his statement "wrong," Barton first said he was sorry for the "misconstruction" of his comments, then later put out a statement retracting his apology to BP.

According to a GOP leadership aide, Barton met with House Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) and Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) Thursday afternoon, and was told, "Apologize, immediately. Or you will lose your [subcommittee] position, immediately. Now that he has apologized, we'll see what happens going forward."

Another aide said Barton would now not be removed unless he goes on "the TV circuit" and causes further controversy. The aides requested anonymity to discuss the private discussions of the Republican leaders.

In his statement, Barton said, "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...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."

BP's Hayward said in testimony at the hearing that he doesn't think the $20 billion escrow account amounts to a "slush fund." Pressed by Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa), Hayward repeatedly declined to give a yes-or-no answer about whether he thought the situation represented a "shakedown."

Almost immediately following Barton's morning comments, the liberal blogs and Democratic campaign operatives sprang into action and the White House denounced Barton. Even before Barton's comments, Democrats had been attempting to connect Republicans to BP, noting the many contributions GOP congressmen have received from it and other oil companies.

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