House Republican leaders told Rep. Joe Barton that he would be stripped of his ranking member status on a key committee Thursday if he did not immediately apologize for comments earlier in the day accusing President Obama of a “shakedown” of oil giant BP, sources told the Daily Caller.
“He was told, ‘Apologize, immediately. Or you will lose your position, immediately,” a House GOP leadership aide said, describing a meeting between Barton and House Minority Leader John Boehner and House Minority Whip Eric Cantor.
“Now that he has apologized, we’ll see what happens going forward,” the GOP aide said.
Barton apologized Thursday afternoon after making his remarks in the morning. But he was forced to issue a second more extensive apology in a formal statement e-mailed to reporters by aides to Boehner, Ohio Republican.
“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,” Barton said. “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.”
House Republican leaders issued a statement of their own, calling Barton’s remarks “wrong.”
“The oil spill in the Gulf is this nation’s largest natural disaster and stopping the leak and cleaning up the region is our top priority. Congressman Barton’s statements this morning were wrong. 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,” said the statement from Boehner, Cantor, and House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence.
Prior to Barton’s apology, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs indicated that the Texas Republican should lose his status as ranking member on the House Energy and Commerce Committee because of his apology to BP’s chief executive Tony Hayward.
“Republicans are going to have to ask themselves whether Representative Barton should be the ranking member on a committee that is doing what it is doing,” Gibbs said.
“It’s a fairly pointed comment about the notion of whether BP is going to be responsible for the damage it has caused,” Gibbs said. “Is somebody who’s going to oversee — as we look into what the company is doing, to begin by apologizing to the company, I think is an interesting way to start.”
Asked whether he was calling on Barton to resign his ranking member seat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Gibbs said, “I will let Republicans make that decision.”
Gibbs again went after Barton on his Twitter account later in the day.
“Who would the GOP put in charge of overseeing the energy industry & Big Oil if they won control of Congress? Yup, u guessed it – JOE BARTON,” Gibbs wrote.
The remarks that started the furor came from Barton to Hayward during a hearing on the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday morning.
“I think it is a tragedy of 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,” Barton said, referring to the amount that BP agreed to place in an escrow account under pressure from the Obama administration.
“I apologize. I do not want to live in a country where any time a citizen or a corporation does something that is legitimately wrong is subject to some sort of political pressure that is again, in my words, amounts to a shakedown. So I apologize,” Barton said to Hayward.
Gibbs said that when he told President Obama of Barton’s remarks, Obama “shook his head.”
“I don’t understand why anybody would say that,” Obama said, according to Gibbs.
Barton later apologized for his apology, but only because he said his remarks had been “misconstrued.”
“I want the record to be absolutely clear that I think BP is responsible for this accident, should be held responsible, and should in every way do everything possible to make good on the consequences that have resulted from this accident,” Barton said when it came his turn to question Hayward during the hearing, in the mid-afternoon.
“And if anything I have said this morning has been misconstrued in opposite effect, I want to apologize for that misconstrued– misconstruction,” he said.
Democrats jumped all over Barton’s remarks, seeking to tie all Republicans to the position of defending the oil giant.
“With their opposition to lifting the liability cap on all oil companies, the $20 billion accountability fund, and legislation to ensure that we are never put in this position again by our reliance on oil and oil companies, Republicans have systematically and inexorably taken the side of Big Oil,” said Hari Sevugan, a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee.
House Republican leaders went into full damage control mode, distributing Barton’s more formal apology in an e-mail and issuing their own statement.
Here is the full Barton formal statement:
“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.”
Here is the full statement from House Republican leaders:
“The oil spill in the Gulf is this nation’s largest natural disaster and stopping the leak and cleaning up the region is our top priority. Congressman Barton’s statements this morning were wrong. 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. Simply put, the American people want all of our resources, time and focus to be directed toward stopping the spill and cleaning up the mess.”