The three top members of the House GOP leadership called a top-ranking member's apology to BP "wrong."
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 Thursday 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."
The top three members of the Republican leadership were forced to respond after Barton apologized to BP CEO Tony Hayward in a hearing for the government's pressure on the company to establish a $20 billion account in escrow to pay out damages related to 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.
He later backed off those remarks, apologizing before the committee and in a statement.
Democrats pounced throughout the day on Barton's statement, seeking to tie his remarks to the GOP as a whole. Vice President Joe Biden called the sentiment "incredibly insensitive," while White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs questioned Barton's fitness to serve in the top GOP position on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
The leadership trio sought in their statement to redirect the debate away from their own party and back toward President Barack Obama's handling of the crisis, where they'd made some headway in recent weeks.
"The families and businesspeople in the Gulf region want leadership, accountability and action from BP and the administration," they said. "It is unacceptable that, 59 days after this crisis began, no solution is forthcoming. Simply put, the American people want all of our resources, time and focus to be directed toward stopping the spill and cleaning up the mess."