By Bridget Johnson - 06/20/10 08:00 PM EDT
It wasn't exactly a week where lawmakers made headlines for behaving their best.
Rep. Bob Etheridge (D-N.C.) went ballistic on videographers asking if he supported "the Obama agenda," prompting the words you should never have to tell a congressman: "Please let go of me!" This brought an all-too-familiar contrite news conference. He was having a bad day, Etheridge said, but that didn't stop lawmakers from getting riled over "sabotage" by camera-wielding bloggers or activists.
In radio blunders, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said on G. Gordon Liddy’s show Monday, "The president has demonstrated that he has a default mechanism in him that breaks down the side of race — on the side that favors the black person.” This is the congressman who tweeted that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) spoke the truth when talking about Obama's electability and his "Negro dialect."
But even though there were plenty of cringe-worthy media disasters this week (a certain Energy and Commerce hearing included — see below), the losers appear to be troubled leaders engaging in recreational activities.
Few would argue that even the powerful
need a day of rest. When you're under increasing criticism for not
putting as much time and energy as possible into resolving an unfolding
crisis, leisure time looks like a day of play while the masses suffer.
On Saturday, BP CEO Tony Hayward competed in a yachting race, sparking wire reports of infuriated Gulf residents as Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) slammed Hayward for showing "the height of arrogance." President Barack Obama hit the Washington Nationals game Friday night and then the golf course again on Saturday, six days after coming under criticism in some corners for four hours of golfing before leaving on his fourth trip to the Gulf Coast since the BP oil spill began. The excursions ignited the blogosphere on an otherwise sleepy news weekend.
And while the right to fun for leaders tasked with crisis management continues to be debated, it appeared to the Gulf Coast that Hayward, for all his early complaining, got his life back.
Republicans on offense about the Gulf oil spill included Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform committee, on MSNBC's "The Dylan Ratigan Show" Tuesday; Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-Calif.) sounding off about Obama's speech on "The Ed Show"; House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) to Andrea Mitchell; Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) and Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) on Fox's "Your World With Neil Cavuto" and "Hannity" on Tuesday; Sen. George LeMieux (R-Fla.) on CNN Wednesday; Vitter again on CBS's "Early Show" Thursday and Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) on CNN.
But after Rep. Joe Barton's (R-Texas) apology to BP at Thursday's Energy and Commerce hearing, the rhetorical tide turned, and Dems went on the attack. There was Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-La.), who told CNN's Wolf Blitzer, "Maybe we just found out where Joe is going to work when he leaves the Congress." Other Barton detractors included fellow Energy and Commerce Committee members Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) on MSNBC's "Hardball" and CNN, and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) on CNN and MSNBC's "The Rachel Maddow Show." Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen pressed Barton's comments further as campaign fodder Friday on MSNBC, and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel blasted Barton's remarks as part of a wider GOP agenda on ABC's "This Week" Sunday.
During the oil spill hearing Thursday, "small people," the term used by BP Chairman Carl Henric-Svanberg at the White House on Wednesday to describe ailing Gulf residents, was the No. 1 trending topic on Yahoo. "Joe Barton" was the 12th hottest search term Thursday on Google, with "joe barton crazy" becoming a breakout search term on Yahoo. "Obama speech" hit No. 19 on Google search Tuesday. And reminding us that politics and tabloid are never far apart, "Gore affair" hit No. 5 on Google search Tuesday, while searches for "bristol palin levi johnston" surged 2,000 percent on Yahoo last week.
Points for the point man
Vice President Joe Biden has committed many a rhetorical gaffe in his long career, but he was the administration's point man in responding to the misjudgment of the week — Barton's Texas-sized blunder.
Barton, ranking Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, apologized to Hayward for what the lawmaker described as a "$20 billion shakedown" by the White House. He was referring to the escrow account agreed upon by the administration and the company the day before. Biden called the remarks "incredibly insensitive, incredibly out of touch," and no one on either side of the aisle disagreed.
Barton tried to clarify his remarks, but it was too late to quell the furor. Dems pounced and Republicans fled.
It was doubtless a welcome end to the week for Obama, who has had weeks of bad press over his response to the spill, and who could not have been entirely happy with the reports of his most recent trip to the Gulf coast, on Monday and Tuesday, which focused on him eating shrimp and slurping a sno-cone while the oil spill's environmental devastation got worse. His address to the nation Tuesday, in which he employed the spill to buoy his energy plan, was met with little enthusiasm from his supporters; MSNBC's Keith Olbermann, for example, said "it was a great speech if you'd been on another planet for the last 57 days," while The Atlantic called the speech "surprisingly bad."