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Rep. Joe Barton Retracts Apology to BP's Tony Hayward

Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas listens to opening statements from members of Congress, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, June 17, 2010, prior to BP CEO Tony Hayward testifying before an Energy and Environment subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations hearing on the role of BP in the Deepwater Horizon Explosion and Oil Spill. AP

Rep. Joe Barton of Texas has offered an apology for his comments this morning apologizing to BP CEO Hayward for what he described as a "shakedown" at the White House to set up a BP-funded $20 billion fund to pay for damages from the catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Barton made the initial comments in his opening statement at Hayward's testimony before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, unleashing a torrent of criticism.

He asked for a "small point of personal privilege" when questioning Hayward in the afternoon to address his earlier comments.

"I want 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," he said. "And if anything I said this morning has been misconstrued to the opposite effect I want to apologize for that misconstrued misconstruction."

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."

In his earlier comments, Barton said, "I'm ashamed of what happened in the White House yesterday," deeming it "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."

"I apologize," Barton told Hayward. "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."

Not long after Barton spoke, the White House released a statement calling his comments "shameful."

"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," said Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. "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."

Rep. Jeff Miller, a Florida Republican, has called for Barton to resign as the ranking Republican on the committee.

"I condemn Mr. Barton's statement," Miller said, according to Politico. "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 on the Energy and Commerce Committee."

According to the Associated Press, Barton has taken more than $100,000 in political contributions from oil and gas interests since the beginning of 2009, more than all but one other member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Vice President Joe Biden 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."

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