Yesterday, House Republicans decided to let Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) keep his seat as the ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, despite his apology to BP executives last week for the White House’s supposed “shakedown” of the company. Barton apologized to his Republican colleagues during a meeting behind closed doors, and House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) apparently though that was enough to excuse Barton for his “poor choice of words.”
This morning on MSNBC, Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) defended his party’s decision, claiming Barton “is not the issue.” Host Joe Scarborough — a former Republican congressman from Florida — repeatedly pressed Cantor on the decision, noting that Barton’s comments are important because he is the “most powerful Republican” on energy issues. The best Cantor could muster was to brush off Barton’s apology to BP as a mere gaffe, comparing him to Vice President Biden:
SCARBOROUGH: But why is Joe Barton allowed to keep his job when Joe Barton apologized to a corporation that is destroying my hometown and its economy and destroying the environment across the Gulf coast?
CANTOR: Joe, listen. Joe Barton is not the issue.
SCARBOROUGH: He kind of is, though. If he is the most powerful Republican on the Hill right now when it comes to energy, he is the issue, isn’t he?
CANTOR: No, he is not. [...]
SCARBOROUGH: Eric, I press you respectfully here, but it was a written statement. You and I both know that sometimes you get tired. Sometimes you say stupid things. I spoke, of course, of myself. I say it every day. You’re like, oh, God, I shouldn’t have said that. You kick yourself. Joe Barton is sitting here reading a statement ‘I apologized to BP!’
MIKA: He’s calling it a poor choice of words.
SCARBOROUGH: That was a calculated statement that shows a troubling mindset and I know you agree with me. You just can’t say it.
CANTOR:Joe, listen. If the standard for resignation is a YouTube moment or an inappropriate statement, wouldn’t you think the Vice President would be handing in his letters twice a week? I mean, come on!
Barton’s comments were no “gaffe.” As Scarborough noted, Barton was reading from a written statement, not making an off-the-cuff remark. “That was a calculated statement. That shows a troubling mindset,” Scarborough said to Cantor.
Cantor’s attempt to deflect attention from Barton by comparing him to Biden’s gaffes is laughable. While Biden is known for his “verbal miscues,” as the Hill noted, Biden’s “most notable gaffe as vice president may have been when he whispered into President Barack Obama’s ear while next to a live mic that passing healthcare reform legislation was a ‘big f—— deal.’” Biden’s comment was made off-the-cuff, when he didn’t think anyone could hear him, and reflected a non-controversial position. Barton spoke from a prepared statement, during an official House hearing, fully aware of what he was saying.
DNC National Press Secretary Hari Sevugan issued the following response: “We don’t say this often but, Eric Cantor’s right – Joe Barton’s not the issue. The issue is a broader Republican culture of not just apologizing to the oil industry, but defending them and their other corporate benefactors at every turn and at the expense of middle class families and small businesses.” More from Jed Lewinson.