GOP lawmaker demands Barton step down from top committee spot

A Republican lawmaker from a district affected by the oil spill called on Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) to step down as the ranking member of his committee.

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.”

Barton apologized to Hayward during opening remarks at a hearing Thursday morning, telling Hayward that he was "ashamed" by President Barack Obama's effort to force BP to create a $20 billion fund in escrow to pay out damages to victims of the oil spill.

“It is 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 dollar shakedown,” Barton said.

Miller took Barton to task.

“I am shocked by Congressman Joe Barton’s reprehensible comments that the government should apologize for the ‘shakedown’ of BP," he said. "BP has caused the greatest ecological and environmental disaster our nation has ever seen. They are the responsible party and they should pay for losses and damages, not the taxpayer. I am optimistic and hopeful that BP acted in good faith by opening the $20 million escrow account, as several of us have requested."

Democrats sought to pin the 114 members of the conservative Republican Study Committee (RSC) to Barton's remarks after the group's chairman, Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), that less stringently criticized the relief fund.

"This would be meaningful if Rep. Miller didn't sit on the committee that sets out Republican policy and which used the exact same language as Rep. Barton in opposing the administration's effort to hold BP accountable to families and small businesses of the Gulf by making BP fund a $20 billion accountability trust," DNC spokesman Hari Sevugan said.

Republicans have already begun to distance themselves from Barton's remarks.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said he disagreed with Barton during his weekly press conference.

"I have said since the beginning that BP ought to be held responsible for every dime of this tragedy," Boehner said. "And they ought to be held accountable to stop the leak and get it cleaned up as soon as possible.”

Another one of Barton's colleagues, Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas), who was a top member of the subcommittee hosting Hayward today, also disavowed Barton's remarks.

"He made it quite clear he was speaking only for himself," he said.