Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) apologized today for his apology to BP, but not before Vice President Joe Biden and other Democrats could blast him for his remarks sympathizing with the oil giant that caused the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Other Republicans in Congress are even calling for him to step down from his position as top Republican in the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
During a congressional hearing this morning, Barton suggested that BP's $20 billion contribution to an escrow fund for damages from the oil spill came after a White House "shakedown," and he apologized to BP CEO Tony Hayward for the so-called "shakedown." He was referring to BP's agreement, at the urging of the White House, to make the contribution to an independently-run fund.
Biden today called Barton's remarks "astounding" and "outrageous."
The White House's interest in seeing BP contribute to an escrow fund was not a "shakedown," the vice president said. "It's insisting on responsible conduct and a responsible response to something they caused."
He added it was "outrageous" to criticize the White House's insistence "that BP demonstrate their preparedness to put side billions of dollars... to take care of the immediate need of people who are drowning."
When asked about Barton's comments, the vice president, who is infamous for his verbal gaffes, rubbed his hands on his forehead and joked that he probably should not comment on the remarks. As he addressed Barton's argument, however, he sounded increasingly agitated. He said that it was more than jobs at stake along the Gulf Coast, but that "there's an entire way of life in jeopardy."
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs added that when he briefed President Obama on Barton's apology, the president shook his head and asked why anyone would say that. The White House released a statement earlier calling Barton's comments "shameful."
Barton this afternoon attempted to clarify his comment, saying, "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." He said he apologized if his comments had been "misconstrued to the opposite effect."
In a statement he made his apology more explicit.
"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," he 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."
Before Barton could apologize for his apology, however, both Republicans and Democrats started excoriating the lawmaker.BP's 20 Billion "Shakedown"
Rep. Jeff Miller, a Republican from Florida, said in a statement he was "shocked" by Barton's comments.
"Mr. Barton's remarks are out of touch with this tragedy and I feel his comments call into question his judgment and ability to serve in a leadership position on the Energy and Commerce Committee," Miller said. "He should step down as Ranking Member of the Committee."
"I don't think anybody should be apologizing to Tony Hayward," Louisiana Republican Steve Scalise said, Politico reports. "I think he should be apologizing to the Gulf States."House Republican Leaders John Boehner (R-Ohio), Eric Cantor (R-Va.), and Mike Pence (R-Ind.) issued a joint statement calling Barton's comments "wrong" but using the opportunity to criticize the administration.
"The families and businesspeople in the Gulf region want leadership, accountability and action from BP and the Administration," they said. "It is unacceptable that, 59 days after this crisis began, no solution is forthcoming."
Meanwhile, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee launched a Facebook ad that leads to a petition denouncing Barton's remarks.
"The DCCC will hold these out-of-touch House Republicans accountable who have no shame when it comes to jumping to the defense of BP and Big Oil," DCCC spokesman Ryan Rudominer said.