Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) stole the spotlight from BP CEO Tony Hayward yesterday when, in a congressional hearing, he apologized to the oil executive for the White House's treatment of BP.
Barton caused a firestorm when he said BP only agreed to contribute $20 billion to an escrow fund for damages from the oil spill after getting a "shakedown" from the White House. He apologized later Thursday -- at the threat of having Republican leadership revoke his important position as top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, CBS News confirms.
That didn't stop Democratic political operatives from exploiting the incident or keep pundits from all sides from weighing in.
While the White House released an official statement calling the remarks "shameful," the president's campaign arm of the Democratic National Committee, Organizing for America, sent its millions of e-mail subscribers a message called "Apologize to BP?" The e-mail says Barton should step down from his chairmanship and urges readers to sign an open letter saying, "The American people support holding BP accountable -- and we won't apologize for doing so."
After Barton said later in the day that his original apology was a "misconstrued misconstruction," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs posted on Twitter, "MICONSTRUCTED?!" Later, Gibbs tweeted the growing Democratic meme, "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."
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.
Meanwhile, the GOP establishment is seeking to distance itself from Barton's statement; House Republican leaders released a statement calling his words "wrong," while some Republicans even agreed with Democrats that Barton should relinquish his chairmanship. Yet liberal commentators are insisting Barton was simply saying out loud what most conservatives really think.
"Barton's quasi-retracted remark was no accident; it was an airing of strong partisan and ideological sentiments shared by his GOP comrades," David Corn of Mother Jones magazine wrote at Politics Daily.
The Republican Study Committee, comprised of more than 115 House conservatives, agreed in a statement with Barton that the escrow fund amounts to "Chicago-style shakedown politics."
Meanwhile, Conn Carroll penned a column for the Heritage Foundation called, "Joe Barton is Right: There Was a $20 Billion Shakedown in the White House."
Daniel Foster at the National Review Online also sided with Barton.
"Oh, and for the record, I agree in part with Rep. Barton that the establishment of the escrow fund -- over and above the claims process that is already in place, and run by an Obama administration hack sold as an "independent third party" -- is, if not illegal, than at least extra-legal," Foster writes, "and another example of Democrats' selective disdain for the rule of law when it gets in the way of a government-run redistribution scheme."
Judson Phillips, the leader of Tea Party Nation and chief organizer of the upcoming National Tea Party Unity Convention, told the Washington Post that the escrow fund was "extortion."
Meanwhile, comedians are having a field day with the incident. Jon Stewart on Comedy Central's "Daily Show" tore into Barton, jokingly portraying him reading a copy of "Disdainful A**hole Digest" -- which featured a picture of Barton on the cover.
The inevitable website JoeBartonWouldLikeToApologize.com has popped up, which features the phrase "Joe Barton would like to apologize to," followed by a series of rotating phrases such as, "Goldman Sachs. Our economy wasn't that important anyways. Go nuts."This name of BP's CEO was corrected in this article on June 21. His name is Tony Hayward, not Tony Hayworth.