The top three House Republican leaders condemned Rep. Joe Barton’s (R-Texas) apology to BP and reiterated that the oil giant should pay to clean up the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and compensate Gulf Coast residents who have been hurt by it.
The leaders’ joint statement Thursday came after Barton met with Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) and Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) in the afternoon and was told to either apologize or he would lose his position as ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, according to GOP leadership aides familiar with the exchange. Barton issued an apology later in the afternoon.
“He was told, Apologize immediately. Or you will lose your position, immediately,'” one House GOP leadership aide said. “Now that he has apologized, well see what happens going forward.”
Boehner, Cantor and Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.) stressed in their statement that “stopping the leak and cleaning up the region” is the top priority to House Republicans — not apologizing to the company that caused the damage.
“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.”
“The families and businesspeople in the Gulf region want leadership, accountability and action from BP and the Administration,” the leaders added.
Barton came under fire Thursday after he said he was sorry that the White House summoned BP executives into a Wednesday meeting to pressure them to create a $20 billion escrow fund to provide compensation to Gulf Coast residents hurt by the oil disaster.
“I apologize,” Barton told BP CEO Tony Hayward at a hearing Thursday morning. “I’m ashamed of what happened in the White House yesterday. I think it’s a tragedy.”
He called Hayward the victim of “a $20 billion shakedown.”
Barton issued a statement Thursday afternoon retracting his apology to BP.
“I apologize for using the term shakedown’ with regard to yesterday’s actions at the White House in my opening statement this morning, and I retract my apology to BP,” Barton said. “As I told my colleagues yesterday and said again this morning, BP should bear the full financial responsibility for the accident on their lease in the Gulf of Mexico.”
Barton said he believed that BP should be forced to compensate families and businesses that have suffered as a result of the oil spill. “BP and the federal government need to stop the leak, clean up the damage, and take whatever steps necessary to prevent a similar accident in the future,” he said.
He added, “I regret the impact that my statement this morning implied that BP should not pay for the consequences of their decisions and actions in this incident.”
Jennifer Bendery contributed to this story.