After Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) apologized to BP CEO Tony Hayward last week for what he said was a “shakedown” when the White House got British oil company to set up a $20 billion escrow fund, the three top House Republican leaders issued a statement calling Barton’s comments “wrong” and then forced him to apologize. On his radio show yesterday, Rush Limbaugh defended Barton, saying that “it was a shakedown pure and simple and somebody had the audacity to call it what it was.”
On CNN last night, John King asked Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) if Rush was right or if the House GOP leadership was right. Coburn refused to take a definitive position, though he faintly argued that the White House didn’t engage in “fair negotiations”:
KING: Rush right or is the Republican leadership in the House right?
COBURN: Oh, I don’t know. I think it’s the cynicism of our politics today. Nobody in either party wants to be vulnerable on any issue and where’s the real leadership? You know what we lack is where is the clarity of purpose. Nobody disagrees that BP is going to be held accountable. The question is how and when and that’s a small matter right now in terms of the problem that we have.
KING: Do you have any problem with the White House negotiating this deal?
COBURN: Well I’m not sure it’s fair negotiations because you’re dealing with one very strong party and one very weak party in terms of public relations. But you know basically holding them accountable is where we want to be and this is one way of doing it.
It’s not surprising that Coburn would decline an opportunity to disagree with Limbaugh, since most Republicans are loathe to cross the right-wing talker. In early 2009, RNC Chairman Michael Steele called Limbaugh’s shtick “incendiary” and “ugly,” but then quickly recanted, calling Limbaugh a “very valuable conservative voice for our party.” Other conservative leaders, like Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-KS), Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA), and South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford have bowed before Rush after expressing public criticism of the hate radio host.