Rep. Joe Barton created a political furor Thursday by first apologizing to BP CEO Tony Hayward at a morning hearing on the gulf oil spill -- for what the Texas Republican called a White House "shakedown" that created a $20 billion escrow fund -- and then being forced to retract it after coming under intense GOP pressure that almost stripped him of his position as ranking member on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Barton issued a statement late Thursday afternoon retracting the apology he made in the morning at the Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing -- a statement that mobilized Republicans as well as Democrats, including Vice President Biden who called the remarks "outrageous."
"I apologize for using the term 'shakedown' with regard to yesterday's actions at the White House in my opening statement this morning," said Barton, "and I retract my apology to BP." President Obama and administration officials met with BP executives and hammered out an agreement for a $20 billion escrow fund over three years to compensate victims of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
"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," said Barton.
"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," Barton said.
In a highly unusual joint statement, House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio, Minority Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia and Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence of Indiana said, "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 dollars for that purpose."
Barton has been a strong defender of the oil industry, which contributes heavily to his coffers.