Within minutes the "Republican Study Committee" -- which describes itself as "a group of over 115 House Republicans organized for the purpose of advancing a conservative social and economic agenda in the House of Representatives" -- issued a press release roundly condemning the fund agreement. The Republican group called it a "shakedown" of the poor, defenseless oil company. It also claimed the president had "no legal authority" to "compel" BP to create the fund.
If that wasn't enough, this morning Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), senior ranking Republican on the House Energy Committee, repeated the Republic Study Committee's accusation by abjectly apologizing to BP's CEO, Tony Hayward, for what Barton termed a "$20 billion shakedown" by the White House by negotiating with the company to establish the compensation fund. Here's Barton's apology:
Inside the hearing room, according to CBS News reporter Jill Jackson, "there were a couple of audible gasps."
It was just not what people were expecting. People were not expecting lawmakers to apologize to Tony Hayward of BP.Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) replied to Barton with more judiciousness than anyone on the Gulf Coast could have mustered. It wasn't a 'shakedown,' he said. "It was the government of the United States working to protect the most vulnerable citizens that we have in our country right now, the residents of the Gulf."
Outside the hearing room, a political firestorm erupted. Critics of the Barton's remarks were everywhere. As NPR reported late this afternoon, many were "shocked."
Barton's "shakedown" quip was immediately declared "outrageous" by Vice President Joe Biden. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said lawmakers from both parties "should repudiate his comments."Steve Benen reported House Republicans then retreated into a half-day huddle. Some, like Texas Republican John Cornyn (R-TX) defended Barton. Others, including Northwest Florida's Jeff Miller, urged Barton to retract his apology.
The amusing thing about Miller's position is that he is one of the "drill, baby, drill" Republicans. In fact, he's one of the 115 members of the same Republican Study Committee that yesterday accused the president of "shakedown politics" -- essentially the same words Barton used -- in persuading BP to set up the escrow account.
Almost two weeks after the BP oil well blew up, Miller was defending BP, just as Barton did today. That's why he's known around here as "Mr. Oil Spill." Go ahead. Take a look. We archived the front-page news article where Miller reaffirmed his long-time "drill, baby, drill" position.
Late today, Barton issued a fumbling half-apology for any "misconstruing" of his earlier remarks. It means as much as Miller's opportunistic posturing. When it mattered -- when BP's CEO was facing Barton, when Miller was running for reelection -- that's when they showed their true colors.
"I continue to support drilling in the Gulf and will work for you to make this happen," Miller told us on August 3, 2008. And, "I support opening the Eastern Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas exploration and extraction..." he reaffirmed on April 29, 2010. And, you will notice, Jeff Miller hasn't apologized for his own Republican Study group's accusation of yesterday that the trust account is a "shakedown."
Make no mistake: Jeff Miller is still a "drill, baby, drill" politician. The rest is all tarballs and oil mousse, meant to befoul your mind.