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GOP Congressman Calls on Barton to Step Down from Ranking Committee Membership

This has snowballed. Jeff Miller (R-FL), a Republican Congressman from the Pensacola area (one of the places hit hard by the oil spill), has publicly called for Joe Barton to step down in the wake of his comments apologizing to BP for their “treatment by the White House.”

Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), whose Pensacola district is among the most affected areas in the Gulf by the oil spill, condemned Barton for apologizing to BP CEO Tony Hayward during a committee meeting on Thursday.

“I condemn Mr. Barton’s statement. 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,” Miller said in a statement. “He should step down as ranking member of the Committee.”

Michael Burgess (R-TX), a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, also distanced himself from Barton’s remarks, saying “He made it quite clear he was speaking only for himself.”

John Cornyn (R-TX), on the other hand, tried to equivocate, saying he “share(s) the concern” of Barton while agreeing that it was hopeful that BP created the escrow account.

This will now be the question asked to every Republican official down to dog catcher: Do you agree with Joe Barton that America should apologize to BP?

Harry Reid’s spokesman Jim Manley put it this way in an email:

“It takes an appalling amount of chutzpah for Congressman Barton to apologize to the BP CEO this morning about Democrats’ efforts to hold BP accountable. Where is his apology for the families of the 11 men who lost their lives and the industries along the Gulf that have been devastated because of this disaster? Where is his sympathy for the ecosystem in the Gulf of Mexico that will be damaged for generations because of BP’s negligence? And shouldn’t he be apologizing to the people of the Gulf Coast for decades of Republican policies that ignored oversight and accountability for the oil industry?

Interesting to see a hissy fit on the Democratic side, for once.

UPDATE: The DCCC has set up a petition demanding that Barton retract his statement.

UPDATE II: That was quick. Barton, taking the mic at the continuing House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing, just walked back his remarks. He said he wanted the record to show that he thought BP was responsible for the spill, and he apologized to people in the Gulf Coast region in a roundabout way, saying “if anything I have said this morning has been misconstrued … I want to apologize for that misconstrued misconstruction.”

Why, if I didn’t know the particulars, given the trajectory I’d have thought the Republicans were the ones offended and the Democrat was the one apologizing quickly.

UPDATE III: Look at this joint statement from Boehner, Cantor and Pence (who I believe is part of the House Republican Study Committee, which said pretty much the exact same thing yesterday as Barton did today):

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (R-Ind.) condemned remarks earlier today by Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) in which he apologized to BP for the treatment the company has faced by the government.

“The oil spill in the Gulf is this nation’s largest natural disaster and stopping the leak and cleaning up the region is our top priority. Congressman Barton’s statements this morning were wrong,” the three said in a joint statement. “BP itself has acknowledged that responsibility for the economic damages lies with them and has offered an initial pledge of $20 billion dollars for that purpose.”

Full damage control mode.

UPDATE IV: Now there’s a written statement from Barton:

“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 in a statement issued through aides. “As I told my colleagues yesterday and said again this morning, BP should bear the full financial responsibility for the accident on their lease in the Gulf of Mexico. BP should fully compensate those families and businesses that have been hurt by this accident. BP and the federal government need to stop the leak, clean up the damage, and take whatever steps necessary to prevent a similar accident in the future.

“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.”

More of an actual apology.

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David Dayen

David Dayen