Republican apologizes to BP for 'shakedown' by government

A top Republican lawmaker apologized to BP on Thursday for what he said was a "shakedown" by the government of the oil company in forcing it to create a $20 billion fund to pay out damages resulting from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

“I am ashamed of what happened in the White House yesterday," said Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), apologizing to the oil company.

Barton, the ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce, said that the relief fund BP created under pressure from President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaPoll: More Republican voters think party is more united than Democratic voters Can you kill a virus with a gun? Biden's pick for vice president doesn't matter much MORE was, in essence, a "slush fund."


“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 during opening remarks of a hearing by his panel. BP CEO Tony Hayward is testiying before the panel.

The White House and congressional Democrats immediately seized on Barton's remarks, while House GOP Leader John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerMeadows joins White House in crisis mode Meadows set to resign from Congress as he moves to White House The Pelosi administration MORE (Ohio) distanced himself from the comments at his weekly press conference.

Asked if he disagreed with Barton’s characterization of the deal struck yesterday at the White House, BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerMeadows joins White House in crisis mode Meadows set to resign from Congress as he moves to White House The Pelosi administration MORE quickly responded, “I do.”

“BP agreed to fund the cost of this clean up from the beginning and I’m glad they’re being held accountable,” Boehner told reporters.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs called on both parties to "repudiate" Barton's comments.

“What is shameful is that Joe Barton seems to have more concern for big corporations that caused this disaster than the fishermen, small business owners and communities whose lives have been devastated by the destruction," he said in a statement.

"Congressman Barton may think that a fund to compensate these Americans is a ‘tragedy’, but most Americans know that the real tragedy is what the men and women of the Gulf Coast are going through right now," Gibbs said. 

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) echoed Gibbs's sentiment. Her office released a statement that said: “House Republicans continue to side with Big Oil over the needs of the American people.”

Hayward, BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg and other top executives from the company met Wednesday with Obama, Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden campaign: Trump and former vice president will have phone call about coronavirus Overnight Health Care: Trump resists pressure for nationwide stay-at-home order | Trump open to speaking to Biden about virus response | Fauci gets security detail | Outbreak creates emergency in nursing homes 16 things to know today about coronavirus outbreak MORE, and other administration officials to discuss the nearly two-month-old spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The April 20 well blowout and explosion at the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig killed 11 workers and touched off the massive oil spill, which is now the largest in U.S. history.

After the meeting, BP announced it had agreed to open a $20 billion escrow fund that will be managed by an independent trustee to pay out claims of damages against the company as a result of the spill.

Barton called the $20 billion account a "slush fund," and said he did not want to live in a country in which citizens or companies that do something wrong can be subjected to such a "shakedown."

“It's unprecedented in our nation’s history, it has no legal standing, and it sets a terrible precedent for the future," he said.

He called it especially inappropriate pressure because the federal government is demanding the fund at a time when the Justice Department has an ongoing criminal investigation into the spill.

Minutes after Barton's comments, Rep. Edward MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyDemocratic senators call on domestic airlines to issue cash refunds for travelers Overnight Energy: Critics blast EPA move as 'license to pollute' during pandemic | Trump expected to roll back Obama mileage standards| Group plans to sue over rollback of water law Hillicon Valley: Twitter says Chinese official's virus disinformation doesn't violate rules | Hackers target WHO | Senators urge agencies to stop coronavirus robocalls MORE (D-Mass.), a senior member of the committee and a leading Democratic lawmaker on energy and climate issues, hammered away at Barton. 

The fund, Markey said, was an effort "to protect the most vulnerable citizens of our country right now."

"That's why this compensation fund was so important. That's why it is not a slush fund. That is why it is not a shakedown," Markey said. "It is in fact President Obama ensuring that a company which has spoiled the waters of our nation is made accountable for the harm that is done to our people."

This story was posted at 10:26 a.m. and updated at 11:38 a.m. and 12:55 p.m.