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With Joe Barton's BP apology, Republicans' points lost in oblivion

Republican leaders, in damage-control mode, forced Rep. Joe Barton to apologize for his apology Thursday to BP. Will anyone remember GOP lawmakers' other points?

By Staff writer / June 18, 2010

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) listens to opening statements from members of Congress, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, 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.

Haraz N. Ghanbari/AP

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Before Rep. Joe Barton’s apology to BP heard 'round the world, Republicans were trying to make a couple of points about the Gulf oil spill – points now lost in a blizzard of charges that the GOP is in the pocket of Big Oil.

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Other Republicans on the House panel that grilled BP CEO Tony Hayward on Thursday focused on two themes: One, the spill, for which BP must be held responsible, is a disaster for people in the Gulf region, but so is the president's offshore drilling embargo. And two: Federal regulators are responsible for oversight of BP’s actions in the Gulf, so why isn't Congress grilling them, too?

House Republican leaders quickly recognized the political peril of Representative Barton's charge that Congress owed BP an apology for White House pressure on the firm to establish a $20 billion escrow fund – a “shakedown” – to help victims of the spill. They gave the Texas Republican an ultimatum: Apologize for the apology – and quickly – or lose his position as top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

But for the political spin cycle, Barton's second apology came too late. The damage was done. Barton was, in an instant, the poster boy for why not to give Republicans the majority in the House in the midterm elections.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) launched an online petition: “GOP Congressman Joe Barton had the nerve to apologize to BP CEO Tony Hayward for the 'tragedy' of holding the oil giant accountable for the devastation caused by the Gulf oil disaster. The American people must respond to this shameful display with a strong and unified voice.”

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs posted an online tweet: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."

In a midafternoon press briefing, Speaker Nancy Pelosi charged that Barton's comments “fit comfortably among the leadership of the Republicans in the House of Representatives.” She referenced a comment by Rep. Tom Price of Georgia, who chairs the Republican Study Committee, the leading conservative caucus: “BP’s reported willingness to go along with the White House new fund suggests that the Obama administration is hard at work exerting its brand of Chicago-style shakedown politics."

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