Faced with the fact that his statements had reminded Americans that conservative Republicans really do care more about corporations than coastlines, Texas Congressman Joe Barton has apologized for apologizing to BP.
The Congressman caused a political firestorm of epic proportions when he greeted BP CEO Tony Hayward not with a demand that the firm explain and take full responsibility for actions (and inactions) that caused the oil spill that now threatens Gulf Coast regions economic and ecological stability but with an expression of corporate solidarity in the face of Obama administration demands for accountability.
As the ranking member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Texas Congressman Joe Barton opened the committee hearing with Hayward by saying: “I'm ashamed of what happened in the White House yesterday. I think it is a tragedy in the first proportion that a private corporation can be subjected to what I would characterize as a shakedownz—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 American people, participating in what amounts to a $20 billion slush fund that's unprecedented in our nation's history, which has no legal standing, which I think sets a terrible precedent for our nation's future."
Then, speaking directly to Hayward, Barton added: "I'm not speaking for anyone else, but I apologize. I do not want to live in a county where anytime a citizen or a corporation does something that is legitimately wrong, [it is] subject to some sort of political pressure that, again, in my words, amounts to a shakedown."
Even Republican strategists—at least the smart ones—had to scramble to hoist the dropped jaws. Rarely in the long history of service by the political class to private-sector donors has the bias been made so very clear.
For their part, Democratic strategists popped champagne corks. After weeks of trying to explain away the tepid response of the president and his aides to what is now acknowledged to be "the worst environmental disaster in American history," they suddenly had been dealt a winning hand -- in the form of video of a ranking Republican taking BP's side (after taking more than $1.4 million in oil-industry campaign contributions since his first election to Congress).
It was too good to be true.
Barton quickly recognized that the Washington Post was undoubtedly right when it observed—in response to his apology—that "this is not the moment to be seen as coddling Big Oil."
The Congressman scrambled to say, "My bad."
"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," the Congressman grumbled.
True, the senior Republican's contrition might have been inspired less by a renewal of his environmental ethic than by the thought that he might lose his committee assignment—especially after House Republican leaders John Boehner, Eric Cantor and Mike Pence issued a joint statement that declared: "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 for that purpose."
Unfortunately, despite their distancing moves, the GOP leaders were confronted with the fact that their own Republican Study Committee, which idetifies itself as "a group of over 115 House Republicans organized for the purpose of advancing a conservative social and economic agenda in the House of Representatives," has been echoing Barton's "shakedown" language.
Georgia Congressman Tom Price, the RSC chairman, issued a formal statement issued by the RSC this week that declared: "BP's reported willingness to go along with the White House's new fund suggests that the Obama Administration is hard at work exerting its brand of Chicago-style shakedown politics."
In his criticism of efforts to get BP to set up and fund the escrow account that will pay for Gulf Coast clean-up and restoration, Price argues that "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's statement, which actually goes further than Barton's in some senses, is still featured on the RSC website under the headline "Chicago-Style Political Shakedown."
Who, in addition to Barton and Price, are some of the member's of the group that identifies holding BP to account as a "shakedown"?
Michele Bachmann, of course.
Spending spokesman Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin.
And the majority of the House Republican Caucus.