Stearns to hold fundraiser with Barton

Unlike most lawmakers on Capitol Hill, Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) is not distancing himself from beleaguered Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas). At least not yet.

While some GOP lawmakers want Barton removed as the top Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee, Stearns is set to appear with the Texas lawmaker at a fundraiser next week.

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Barton last week apologized to BP CEO Tony Hayward for what he called the Obama administration’s “shakedown” of the company.

The Hill obtained a copy of the e-mail invitation sent to Stearns’s supporters late Monday afternoon for the June 30 lunch fundraiser. “With Special Guest, Congressman Joe Barton,” the invite states, in bright red letters.

“You are cordially invited to lunch with Congressman Cliff Stearns,” the invitation states. In italics, the invitation stipulates “$1,000 suggested donations” for the Wednesday event in Alexandria.

The 11-term Florida lawmaker serves alongside Barton on the Energy panel. Stearns is the ranking member of the Telecommunications and Internet subcommittee.

Stearns’s Congressional office did not comment for the story. His campaign office did not comment, either.

A source confirmed that the fundraiser was still scheduled as of Tuesday.

Rep. Jeff Miller, Stearns’s GOP colleague from Florida, was the first Republican lawmaker to publicly call on Barton to give up his committee perch. Rep. Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) was the second.

At press time, GOP Gulf Coast lawmakers were set to meet with their leaders to discuss the situation.

Tuesday night’s meeting will be the first time that lawmakers representing districts hard-hit by the BP oil spill will have met as a group since Barton set off the firestorm last week.

At the time, GOP leaders blasted Barton’s remarks as “wrong” and, according to aides, demanded that the Texan “apologize immediately” or lose his spot as the panel’s top-ranking Republican.

Barton’s subsequent backtracking did not appease Miller or Bonner, and it’s unclear how the other 14 GOP lawmakers with district Gulf Coast real estate will react.

Barton has been in damage-control mode, however, according to aides familiar with the situation.

The Energy and Commerce ranking member called Bonner, Miller and other lawmakers over the weekend to apologize personally. He also phoned other members on the committee and those who represent the

Gulf Coast as heat over the comments grew on Friday and throughout the weekend.

It was unclear if Barton would participate in Tuesday evening’s meeting.

Democrats have seized on Barton’s comments and not let go.

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The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) launched a handful of ads spotlighting Barton’s comments. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, a former DCCC chairman, has cited Barton’s remarks in recent interviews.

But Barton got a lift this week when right-wing radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh defended him.

Limbaugh told his listeners that “it was a shakedown, pure and simple. And somebody had the audacity to call it what it was and now everybody’s running for the hills.”

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