As midterm elections loom, Democrats zero in on a GOP apology to BP

Cleanup and containment efforts continue at the Gulf of Mexico site of the oil spill following the Deepwater Horizon explosion.
By Alec MacGillis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 21, 2010

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel on Sunday ratcheted up the Democrats' effort to turn a House Republican's apology to BP into a political pivot point, saying last week's comments by Rep. Joe L. Barton (Tex.) were a reminder of the "governing philosophy" that Republicans would bring into power if they win big in November.

Barton, the ranking Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, apologized to BP chief executive Tony Hayward last week after the White House demanded that the company create a $20 billion escrow fund to pay for damages wrought by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, a demand Barton termed a "shakedown." Under fire from Democrats and under pressure from fellow Republicans, Barton apologized for his apology.

On ABC's "This Week," Emanuel said Barton's comments were further evidence of Republicans' pro-business tilt. Emanuel also cited their opposition to the pending financial regulatory overhaul and Kentucky Senate nominee Rand Paul's assertion last month that the administration's anti-BP rhetoric was "un-American."

"The approach here, expressed and supported by other voices in the Republican Party, sees the aggrieved party as BP, not the fishermen and the communities down there affected. And that would be the governing philosophy," Emanuel said. "And I think what Joe Barton did is remind the American people, in case they forgot: This is how the Republicans would govern."

With the slow economic recovery and the oil spill casting a pall over Democrats' prospects in the midterm elections, they are seeking to use Barton's comments as a way to get voters to refocus on the Republican alternative instead of seeing the elections only as a referendum on the Democrats. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), an outspoken critic of the administration, countered Emanuel's attempt to reframe the election. Issa accused the White House of, among other things, using the oil spill to build a case for limits on carbon emissions -- a "massive and punishing energy tax on the very Americans who are struggling to retain and find jobs."

"Rahm is right: There are two very different governing philosophies that the American people will have to choose between," Issa said. "Our governing vision embraces the need for an entrepreneurial insurgency, governing by transparency, living within our means, and holding those accountable who trade safety for profit while also looking inward at the failures of government and aggressively reforming the bureaucracy before a crisis hits, not after it. By contrast, the Obama administration's philosophy has been to embrace a 'say anything, do anything,' Chicago-style mentality that speaks to address the politics of the moment rather being mindful of their impact on our future."

Also on Sunday, Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), chairman of a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee, released an internal BP document showing that the company estimated the worst-case scenario for a spill at the Deepwater Horizon well as being 100,000 barrels per day. When it submitted the document to Congress, BP had told the House Energy and Commerce Committee that the worst-case scenario was 60,000 barrels a day.

But in the two-page document released by Markey, BP states in a footnote that if the modeling used to estimate restrictions to oil flow were wrong, and if the blowout preventer and well head were removed, then the daily flow could be as high as 100,000 barrels. Markey seized on this higher figure as further proof that BP has been understating the spill's potential damage. BP initially estimated the flow at 1,000 barrels per day; the government's latest numbers put it between 35,000 and 60,000 barrels per day.

The relevance of the footnote figure is limited, because the current situation differs from the scenario envisioned in the 100,000-barrel spill. The blowout preventer, while not closed properly, is still in place, and BP has no intention of removing it until the well is "killed" later in the summer.

BP spokesman Toby Odone also challenged Markey's suggestion that BP had been trying to hide the 100,000-barrel estimate, noting that the document was submitted to the House last month. "I can't quite figure out why it's coming out now," Odone said.

On "This Week," Emanuel also reacted to reports that Hayward was spotted Saturday in a yacht race off the coast of southern England, by invoking Hayward's much-maligned declaration late last month, "I want my life back."

"Well, to quote Tony Hayward, he's got his life back, as he would say," Emanuel said. "And I think we can all conclude that Tony Hayward is not going to have a second career in PR consulting."

Hayward may not have been alone in seeking refuge on the waves. Norway's leading business paper, Dagens Naeringsliv, had a cover story Sunday reporting that in the days after the late-April explosion, BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg was on a cruise in Thailand with his new girlfriend aboard his yacht (named Cygnus Montanus, a Latin rendering of Svanberg's name). "On Holiday as the Oil was Flowing," reads the front-page headline. Odone, the BP spokesman, had no comment on the report.

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