By Michael O'Brien - 06/17/10 08:26 PM EDT
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
“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."