Video: Rep. Barton retracts apology to BP
Transcript of: Rep. Barton retracts apology to BP
LESTER HOLT, anchor: There was another moment of drama in today's hearing. During opening statements Texas Republican Joe Barton , a longtime oil industry supporter, apologized to Tony Hayward for what the congressman called a shakedown by the Obama administration, pressuring BP to set up a $20 billion compensation fund. NBC 's White House correspondent Savannah Guthrie has more on the apology and
the fallout from it. Savannah: Lester , after the White House has been beleaguered for weeks by having to defend its response to the oil spill, that Republican congressman gave this White House a political gift today by apologizing to the head of BP . And this White House was quick to seize on the opportunity. At the hearing where the witness chair was supposed to be the hot seat...
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE reporting: I'm ashamed of what happened in the White House yesterday.
Representative JOE BARTON (Republican, Texas): ...it was Republican Congressman Joe Barton of Texas making the big news, apologizing to the head of BP , saying the Obama administration bullied the company into paying $20 billion to victims of the gulf disaster.
GUTHRIE: I think it is a tragedy of the first proportion that a private corporation can be subjected to what I would characterize as a shakedown. I'm not speaking for anybody else, but I apologize.
Rep. BARTON: That remark had one of the administration's most outspoken figures speechless.
Vice President JOE BIDEN: But only for a moment.
GUTHRIE: There's no shakedown. It's insisting on responsible conduct and a responsible response to something they caused. And I find it outrageous.
Vice Pres. BIDEN: Congressman Barton says Attorney General Eric Holder should not have been present at the meeting with BP because the Department of Justice is pursuing a criminal investigation. Holder says he didn't take part in negotiations with the company and was quick to fire back.
GUTHRIE: Let me be clear. I don't apologize for the Justice Department 's role in this matter.
Attorney General ERIC HOLDER: At the Capitol , Republican leaders rushed to do damage control.
GUTHRIE: I have said since the beginning that BP ought to be held responsible for every dime of this tragedy.
Representative JOHN BOEHNER (House Minority Leader): By the afternoon Barton himself seemed to backtrack.
GUTHRIE: If anything I have said this morning has been misconstrued in an opposite effect, I want to apologize for that misconstruction.
Rep. BARTON: Well, later Barton went even further, retracting his apology to the head of BP . As to this larger question of whether the administration bullied or pressured BP to give that $20 billion, the fact is the company more or less handed it over, choosing not to mount legal challenges that it could have or play hardball with the federal government, making a simple, practical, cost/benefits business decision, Lester , because it wants to continue doing business in this country.