White House role defended on BP fund, other industries

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel on Sunday hit back at critics who allege that the Obama administration has been too intrusive in dealing with major industries like banks and automakers.

“If you use all your tools, some cases it's jawboning, in some cases it's building a consensus. And in other places, it's also understanding that if you need the government, or most importantly, the taxpayers' resources, you have to make the changes that are necessary for you to survive and be a viable entity like in General Motors,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.”

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The comments come days after Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) apologized to BP for what he called a White House “shakedown” that forced the company to create a $20 billion oil spill claims fund.

And Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) – a popular figure among conservative Tea Party activists – said the claims fund is part of a troubling pattern, citing the federal stakes taken in insurance giant AIG, ailing banks and big automakers.

“This is a complete difference in the way that the United States was run 18 months ago. But today, it seems like the automatic effort from the government is let's have the federal government take over private industry,” Bachmann said on CNN last week.

Emanuel said the White House, unlike the prior administration, conditioned aid to GM on the auto giant making changes that ensured its viability.


“The prior administration wrote a check without asking for any conditions of change,” he said. “We said, without a check from the American people, get yourself right. You've got to make fundamental change. They've made changes and now, as you know, General Motors is going to have an IPO. And most importantly, they're going to keep open factories that they were planning on closing.”

Emanuel also joined other Democrats in attacking Barton’s comments – which Barton retracted under heavy pressure from House GOP leaders. Democrats are using the comments to allege that Republicans are looking out for the oil industry.

“That's not a political gaffe, those were prepared remarks. That is a philosophy. That is an approach to what they see. They see the aggrieved party here is BP, not the fishermen,” Emanuel said of Barton’s apology to BP.

After Emanuel's TV appearance, House Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans released Barton's prepared remarks from the hearing, refuting the White House assertion that Barton's apology was in those prepared remarks.

"His opening statement was, in fact, extemporaneous," the GOP statement said.

This story was updated at 2 p.m.