Rep. Joe Bartons 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 Bartons comments and calling for him to step down.
Mr. Bartons 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 Bartons 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 Bartons 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 Bartons 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 Bartons remarks reflected the views of most House Republicans. Thats 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 Bartons comments and had heard talk about the possibility he could be forced to step aside.
Theres a lot of rumors, he said, declining to comment on whether he thought Barton should resign his post atop the committee. Dont put me in that box yet, he said.
Another Energy and Commerce Republican, former Whip Roy Blunt (Mo.), also distanced himself from Bartons 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 thats something for them, said Blunt, who is running for an open Senate seat in Missouri. I havent been involved in any discussions like that.
Rep. Anh Joseph Cao (R-La.) said that he was unfamiliar with the specifics of Bartons comment but that he defended Bartons First Amendment right to express his views.
Democrats, meanwhile, seized on Bartons 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 Bartons comment.