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Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2010-06-18

A Republican Congressman's apology to BP chief executive Tony Hayward yesterday has set off a small political firestorm in the US, as Republicans work to do damage control and Democrats try to turn the comments to their advantage.

If US political buzz on Thursday revolved around BP chief executive Tony Hayward’s congressional hearing, Friday was all about a Republican representative from Texas named Joe Barton.

What was expected to be a session in which Hayward would face tough talk from angry Capitol Hill politicians got off to a puzzling start when Barton, the first Republican to speak, proceeded to apologise to the BP boss.

“I’m ashamed of what happened in the White House [Thursday],” Barton said. “It is a tragedy of the first proportion that a private corporation can be subjected to what I would characterise as a shakedown, a 20 billion dollar shakedown”. Barton was referring to the promise of the 20 billion dollars of compensation that US President Barack Obama managed to obtain from BP for those affected by the catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Barton’s comments initially had people across the US political spectrum scratching their heads. But it wasn’t long before Republicans were groaning and rushing to condemn the tone-deaf remark; Democrats, meanwhile are smacking their lips at the possibility of shifting public scrutiny from Obama’s much-criticised handling of the crisis to the insensitivity of a party with strong ties to “Big Oil”.

Republicans are often singled out for accepting grandiose campaign contributions from major oil and gas companies. Barton, in particular, has been identified by the Center for Responsive Politics in the US as having received 1.4 million dollars from such corporations since 1990.

After a scolding from party leaders, Barton took back his apology and voiced regret at having used the word “shakedown”.

But Democrats, eager to build up dwindling political capital before November’s “midterm” congressional elections, have pounced. The Democratic National Committee swiftly put together a YouTube video playing the apology on repeat, while White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs took to his Twitter account to slam Barton and Republicans in general. Vice President Joe Biden, in turn, told reporters that Barton’s statement was “outrageous”.

For now, US political classes have found a new bad guy in the unspooling saga of the oil spill and its disastrous aftermath. Whether or not Democrats will be able to use Barton’s statement to any significant advantage in the final months before Americans head to the polls remains to be seen.

Date created : 2010-06-18


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