A senior Republican senator on Thursday said he shares some concerns expressed by Rep. Joe Barton, a Texas Republican who caused a furor on Capitol Hill and a quick rebuke from the White House by apologizing to a BP executive.
Barton said he was “ashamed” that President Obama had forced the oil company to put $20 billion into an escrow account to be administered by an attorney already working for the government and chosen by Obama. Barton called it “a $20 billion shakedown.”
Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, indicated he was sympathetic to Barton’s point of view.
“I think it’s good that there’s going to be some money there,” Cornyn said to a handful of reporters. “But I think the part that Representative Barton is expressing some concern about, that I share the concern, is that this has become a political issue for the president and he’s trying to deal with it by showing how tough he’s being against BP.”
“The president’s kind of gone from commander-in-chief to claims adjuster-in-chief,” Cornyn said. “I just think the federal government finds itself in a crisis situation and finds itself embedding the federal government in what heretofore usually has been resolved by legal contracts and the requirements of the law.”
Other Republican leaders distanced themselves from Barton’s comments. House Minority Leader John Boehner, Ohio Republican, said he disagreed with Barton’s remarks.
“BP agreed to fund the cost of this cleanup from the beginning and I’m glad they are being held accountable,” Boehner told reporters.
Barton made his remarks during testimony by BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward before the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigations.
“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, with the attorney general of the United States, who is legitimately conducting a criminal investigation and has every right to do so to protect the interests of American people, participating in what amounts to a $20 billion slush fund that’s unprecedented in our nation’s history, that’s got no legal standing, which I think sets a terrible precedent for the future,” Barton said.
“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.
He added that he supported subcommittee chairman Rep. Bart Stupak, Pennsylvania Democrat, in submitting Hayward to tough questioning.
“There are questions that need to be asked that are legitimate because we don’t want another oil spill of this magnitude,” Barton said.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs lashed out at Barton soon after the congressman made his remarks, in a statement e-mailed to the press.
“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,” Gibbs said.
“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,” he said.
Vice President Joe Biden echoed Gibbs’ call for lawmakers to disassociate themselves from Barton’s comments, calling the remarks “outrageous” and “astounding.”
“There’s no shakedown. It’s insisting on responsible conduct and a responsible response to something they caused,” Biden said.