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 for?
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 legitimate claims."
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."