Feb. 11, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

GOP Discontent Grows Over Barton’s Apology to BP

Updated: 4:05 p.m.

Rep. Joe Barton’s Republican colleagues are questioning whether he should step aside as the ranking member on the House Energy and Commerce Committee over comments he made apologizing to BP CEO Tony Hayward and ripping a $20 billion escrow account to pay for oil spill cleanup efforts.

Republican Rep. Jeff Miller, whose Florida Panhandle district includes a long stretch of threatened coastline, came out the strongest, issuing a statement condemning Barton’s comments and calling for him to step down.

“Mr. Barton’s remarks are out of touch with this tragedy, and I feel his comments call into question his judgment and ability to serve in a leadership position on the Energy and Commerce Committee,” Miller said. “He should step down as Ranking Member of the Committee”

Miller added that he was “shocked” by Barton’s comments, which he called “reprehensible.”

Although some other Republican House Members were reluctant to openly criticize Barton, one senior House GOP aide said that there was a “decent” chance that Barton’s comment could cost him his post.

“Decent, and growing by the minute,” the aide said. “The leaders are tired of his shtick, as are the Members.”

Many GOP lawmakers, including House Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio), were quick to distance themselves from Barton. Boehner told reporters Thursday that he disagreed with Barton’s characterization of the escrow fund as a “shakedown.”

Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), an Energy and Commerce member who co-chairs a GOP energy working group, said he and most House Republicans were “on a different page” than Barton, noting that he strongly supports the escrow fund.

Upton said he did not think Barton’s remarks reflected the views of most House Republicans. “That’s not where we are — or should be,” he said.

Upton — who is the No. 3 Republican on the panel, after Barton and Rep. Ralph Hall (Texas) — said he was surprised by Barton’s comments and had heard talk about the possibility he could be forced to step aside.

“There’s a lot of rumors,” he said, declining to comment on whether he thought Barton should resign his post atop the committee. “Don’t put me in that box yet,” he said.

Another Energy and Commerce Republican, former Whip Roy Blunt (Mo.), also distanced himself from Barton’s comments by noting that he supported the escrow fund. But Blunt declined to weigh in on whether Barton should keep his committee post.

“The leaders — that’s something for them,” said Blunt, who is running for an open Senate seat in Missouri. “I haven’t been involved in any discussions like that.”

Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao (R-La.) said that he was unfamiliar with the specifics of Barton’s comment but that he defended Barton’s First Amendment right to express his views.

Democrats, meanwhile, seized on Barton’s comments to hammer Republicans as Big Oil sympathizers, a perception the GOP has been working to dispel since the spill. The White House quickly issued a statement calling on Barton to “repudiate” his remarks, and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) also blasted Barton’s comment.

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