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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.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said in a statement that Barton was taking the side of corporations over the American people.

"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," Gibbs said. "Members from both parties should repudiate his comments."

Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), said: "Republicans should get their priorities straight: Are they going to keep protecting and apologizing for Big Oil or will they finally stand up for families and businesses whose lives have been upended by the BP oil spill?"

Republicans hoping to pin the problems of the Gulf Coast on Obama were immediately put on the defensive.

Later Thursday, Boehner, Cantor (Va.) and Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.) issued a statement denouncing Barton's comments.

"Congressman Barton's statements this morning were wrong," the Republicans said. "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. It is unacceptable that, 59 days after this crisis began, no solution is forthcoming."

Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) spent much of his speaking time at the hearing attacking Barton.

"This is not a shakedown of the company," Markey said. "This is, in my opinion, the American government working at its best."

Democrats point out that Barton, represents a district just south of Dallas, has a history of defending the energy industry and making controversial and colorful comments.

Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) who represents the Gulf Coast area, called on Barton to step down as ranking member of the committee.

Barton has some company in his position. Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) also said in a statement Wednesday that the fund amounted to a 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," Price said.

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