Pelosi, Hoyer blast Barton, GOP leaders

Republican Rep. Joe Barton's (R-Texas) controversial apology to BP was not an isolated incident, but part and parcel to a GOP leadership philosophy, the top two House Democrats charged Thursday.

Speaking to reporters at her weekly press conference, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Barton's remark was "one comment."

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"I think it's important to note that it was not inconsistent with comments made by the chairman of the Republican Study Committee, part of the Republican leadership, Representative Tom Price. He said; 'BP's reported willingness to go along with the White House's new fund suggests that the Obama administration is hard at work exerting its brand of Chicago-style shake-down politics,'" Pelosi said.

"I think that Mr. Barton's comments fit comfortably among the leadership of the Republicans in the House of Representatives," Pelosi added, referring specifically to Price but noting that Barton serves as ranking republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee at the behest of Republican leaders.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) issued a statement as Pelosi's press conference was beginning in which he called the comments made by Barton and other Republicans "simply unbelievable, and illustrative of a psychology of regulatory neglect that led to a meltdown on Wall Street and now the worst manmade environmental disaster our country has seen."

"In their rush to protect BP, Washington Republicans seem to have forgotten that the real tragedy is not corporate accountability, but the severe personal, economic and environmental devastation that the oil spill has caused for millions of Americans," Hoyer said.

During a Thursday Energy and Commerce hearing called to hear testimony from BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward, Barton said he was "ashamed" of a Wednesday agreement BP made with the White House to create a $20 billion escrow account for oil spill damages, and called it a "tragedy" that amounted to a "$20 billion shakedown."

Barton's comment immediately ignited a firestorm of controversy in the Capitol, which the Texas Republican sought to put out before the same cameras.

"I want the record to be absolutely clear that I think BP is responsible for this accident, should be held responsible and should in every way do everything possible to make good on the consequences that have resulted from this action," Barton said following his questioning of Hayward on Thursday afternoon. "If anything I said this morning has been misconstrued in opposite effect, I want to apologize for that misconstruction."

House Republican Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), who held his weekly press briefing only minutes after Barton's initial remark, said he disagreed with the characterization of the liability trust fund as a "shakedown," and his press office sent out an e-mail highlighting the exchange. 

Late Thursday afternoon, the top three Republican leaders in the House — Boehner, Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Conference Chairman Mike Pence (R-Ind.) — issued a joint statement solidifying their disagreement with Barton's apology.

"Congressman Barton’s statements this morning were wrong," the statement said. "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."

Boehner has already heard at least one call from within his conference for Barton's spot as the top Energy and Commerce Republican.

Pelosi did not directly answer a question about whether she thinks Barton should step down or be replaced by another Republican atop the Energy and Commerce committee.

Molly K. Hooper and Michael O'Brien contributed to this story.

This story was updated at 5:16 p.m.