Just to be clear, it was BP that caused what is now generally recognized as the worst environmental disaster in American history.
It was BP that provided unsound information about the crisis and its
aftermath, creating a false sense that the spill could be more easily
contained than was reasonable to imagine.
It was BP that tried to prevent monitoring of the spill that so
threatens the Gulf Coast and the environments and economies of
Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.
So now that President Obama is getting a little tougher on the
company-and it should be emphasized that the White House remains far too
cautious a player-who are key Republicans in Congress feeling sorry
After Obama successfully pressured BP to guarantee that it would set
aside at least $20 billion in an accountability escrow fund that will be
used to meet the needs of Gulf Coast residents who have lost-or will
lose-their homes and their livelihoods as a result of the spill, one of
the most powerful Republicans in the House apologized.
As the ranking member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Texas
Congressman Joe Barton opened the committee hearing with BP CEO
Tony Hayward: "I'm ashamed of what happened in the White House
yesterday. I think it is a tragedy in the first proportion that a
private corporation can be subjected to what I would characterize as a
shakedown-in this case a $20 billion shakedown-with the attorney general
of the United States, who is legitimately conducting a criminal
investigation and has every right to do so to protect the American
people, participating in what amounts to a $20 billion slush fund that's
unprecedented in our nation's history, which has no legal standing,
which I think sets a terrible precedent for our nation's future."
Then, speaking directly to Hayward, Barton added: "I'm not speaking
for anyone else, but I apologize. I do not want to live in a county
where anytime a citizen or a corporation does something that is
legitimately wrong, [it is] subject to some sort of political pressure
that, again, in my words, amounts to a shakedown."
Barton's not an outlier. Other prominent Republicans are rallying to
BP's defense. Minnesota Congressman Michele Bachmann counseled that:
"[If] I was the head of BP, I would let the signal get out there-'We're
not going to be chumps, and we're not going to be fleeced.' And they
shouldn't be. They shouldn't have to be fleeced and make chumps to have
to pay for perpetual unemployment and all the rest-they've got to be
The problem, explained Bachmann is not BP but Obama. "The other thing
we have to remember is that Obama loves to make evil whatever company
it is that he wants to get more power from," griped
the conservative Congresswoman.
Congressman Ed Markey, the Massachusetts Democrat, had the right
official response: "Not only is the compensation fund that was created
yesterday...not a slush fund, and not a shakedown.... (Rather) it was
the government of the United States working to protect the most
vulnerable citizens we have in our country right now. It is BP's spill,
but it is America's ocean."
The unofficial response should be to hand Republicans like Barton and
Bachmann the microphone and invite them to continue to apologize to a
company that is now so untrusted-and unpopular-that, according to a new
Gallup/USA Today poll, 59 percent of Americans say it should be required
"to pay for all costs associated with the Gulf of Mexico oil spill even
if it drives the company out of business."