Rachel Maddow talks with Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) about the Republican response to the BP environmental disaster (Transcript below).
MADDOW: We are coming to you from Washington tonight where what we all expected today here on Capitol Hill was this image, the CEO of BP, Tony Hayward, one hand in the air, pledging to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about his company causing the biggest environmental disaster in American history. That`s the scene we were all expecting today. What we were not expecting today was that BP— having just agreed to fork over $20 billion for the victims of their disaster— what we didn`t expect is that BP today would receive a personal apology from a member of Congress at today`s hearing.
REP. JOE BARTON(R), TEXAS: And I`m ashamed of what happened in the White House yesterday. 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 — in this case, a $20 billion shakedown. I apologize. I do not want to live in a country where any time a citizen or a corporation does something that is legitimately wrong is subject to some sort of political pressure that is, again, in my words, amounts to a shakedown. So, I apologize.
MADDOW: Republican Congressman Joe Barton of Texas, the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, expressing his deepest apologies to BP twice. He`s sorry BP is having to pay and that the U.S. government is making them BP— after BP caused the biggest environmental disaster in American history. Just to be clear: Joe Barton is apologizing to them. After that, after a few hours of “holy cow, he said, what” panic on the Republican side of the aisle, Congressman Barton returned to the hearing room to try to clarify his earlier remarks.
BARTON: I think BP is responsible for this accident, should be held responsible, and should, in every way, do everything possible to make good on the consequences that have resulted from this accident. And if anything I said this morning has been misconstrued in an opposite effect, I want to apologize for that misconstruction.
MADDOW: I want to apologize for the misconstruction. In other words, I want to apologize for you all getting it so wrong. Now, politically, this is obviously a big Joe Barton problem. Joe Barton is a former executive at the old oil company ARCO. He is the single largest recipient of oil and gas money in the entire U.S. House of Representatives over the last 20 yeas. His single biggest career contributor is Anadarko Petroleum, which owns one-fourth of the Deepwater Horizon well that is currently fire-hosing its contents into the Gulf of Mexico— which may explain why this isn`t even the first time this week that Joe Barton expressed sympathy for BP.
BARTON: This reminds me a little bit of Monday morning call-in radio talk show after the Redskins have blown another one. Everybody has an idea what should have been done and now that they know what was done and it wasn`t done properly, they`re much smarter than the coach on the field and the quarterback on the field at the time. So, it`s very easy to second- guess and to point out the problems.
MADDOW: Yes. It`s so easy to say, this was done wrong and that was done wrong. It`s so easy. What exactly is the alternative to doing that, Congressman Barton? What would you rather us be doing at this point, if not that? Something did go wrong. There are problems to be pointed out. Should we just not talk about that? Do we just say, oops, and ignore what`s going on with BP from hear on out? In that same hearing earlier this week, Congressman Barton also said that the Chinese are currently drilling off the coast of Florida. And so, we can`t just let them have all of our oil. We have to keep drilling there. Of course, it`s not true that the Chinese are drilling off the coast of Florida. It`s not true except on right-wing talk radio. But, hey, what, are we going to take try to make everybody walk through conspiracy theory detectors on their way to the floor of Congress now? So, yes, this is most definitely a Joe Barton problem. But Joe Barton is not an outlier here in the Republican Party. And this is the most important thing about what happened today. He is not an outlier by any stretch of the imagination. Yesterday, after the White House got BP to agree to set aside$20 billion for oil spill victims, the House Republican Study Committee blasted out a statement declaring, quote, “The Obama administration is hard at work exerting its brand of Chicago-style shakedown politics.” Just like Joe Barton, attacking the White House for getting BP to set aside$20 billion for BP oil spill victims, even using the same shakedown epithet. The House Republican Study Committee isn`t a little outlier either. It`s not some, one random congressman from Texas tied to the oil industry. The House Republican Study Committee is 114 House Republicans. It`s two- thirds, nearly two-thirds of all Republicans in the House. So, keep this in mind when you consider the huge uproar an apology over what Joe Barton said in the House today, his “I`m sorry, BP, sorry that the Obama administration is being so tough on you” — this is not a Joe Barton problem. This is a problem shared by a big majority of all the Republicans in the House. And there`s more. When Senator John Cornyn, chairman of the Republican Senate Campaign Committee, was asked about Joe Barton`s comments today, Senator Cornyn said, quote, “I share the concern.” Yesterday, Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann defended BP`s honor by accusing the White House of wanting to use BP as a, quote, “permanent ATM card,” part of a broader effort, she said, to, quote, “take over private industry.” Last week, the top Republican in the House, John Boehner, suggested that BP shouldn`t have to pay the full financial burden of this disaster, that taxpayers should foot some of the bill, too. He later had to walk back those comments. Listen, this oil spill is not a political disaster. This is a disaster- disaster. But the political consequences of it are turning out to be astonishing. This is — like in boxing, you think you`re facing off against some big, tough opponent who`s talking lots of trash, and has a great record and he seems really impressive — and then you find out that that big, tough opponent actually has a glass jaw. Joe Barton and the Republican Study Committee and John Cornyn and John Boehner and Michele Bachmann and Haley Barbour, and all the other Republicans who have stood up for BP since this disaster started, have revealed the Republican`s glass jaw on this issue. Republicans are pledging to fight Democrats to the death, to stop energy reform. What are they going to fight with? They`re great speeches by Joe Barton? Are they going to marshal public opinion to their side in their passionate defense of the company that every day continues to cause and inflict this disaster upon us? It is one thing, just for the entertainment value, to sit back and watch politicians embarrass themselves in moments like this. But, strategically, this is an important moment. This shows an incredible weakness in the Republican Party. Republicans have said they`re going to stop energy reform. They`re going to stand up to Democrats on energy issues. Their bluff has now been called. What you saw today is what the Republicans have to offer the public in terms of an alternate vision on energy, apologies to BP, and criticism that a fund for victims of this oil spill is unfair — unfair to the company that caused the disaster. Democrats should feel free to do whatever they want to do on energy. In political terms, there`s nothing on the Republican side to constrain them. That`s what was learned today. You`re not supposed to just point and laugh at the guy`s glass jaw. You`re supposed to hit him there. Joining us now is Democratic Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky of Illinois. She`s a member of the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, which called BP CEO in to testify today. Congressman Schakowsky, thank you for coming in tonight.
REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY(D), ILLINOIS: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: I feel like the Republican political response to the crisis changes the game politically — revealing essentially that there isn`t a strong opposition politically to Democratic energy plans. It will be like pushing on an open door. Do you think that`s true?
SCHAKOWSKY: The reason I know it`s true you is because they immediately reacted — they understood that what Joe Barton said — even though it does reflect what they really believe — was not a good thing to put out there. I think there was such strong reaction that some of the Republicans themselves were saying, Joe Barton ought to step down as the ranking Republican on the committee, that he would chair, by the way, if the Republican were in charge of the Congress, and they were trying to distance himself despite what the Republican Study Committee had put out, those very words. And what Barton also called a slush fund. And he called it a tragedy of, what, enormous proportions or something. A tragedy —
MADDOW: A tragedy that the victims would be paid?
SCHAKOWSKY: — that BP was facing because they would have to pay. I mean, it`s just unbelievable. So, I think the fact that they reacted that way, they understand that they are on very thin water, if you will. And thin ice. So, I think this is a moment we really ought to capture as Democrats. And what we find is that the public, in a poll down by the League of Conservation Voters, that they don`t just want a Band-Aid. Yes, of course, they want BP to pay. They want us to be very tough on the cleanup. But they would also like to see this moment to hold polluters responsible and to pass clean energy legislation.
MADDOW: The clean energy legislation, such as it is, has passed the House, passed the House a long time ago. In the Senate, conventional wisdom here in Washington is that passing an energy bill through the Senate is no more possible now, maybe even less possible now than it was before this disaster. And I— every time I come to Washington, I hear that as a common wisdom. I don`t think it makes sense anywhere in America, except within the Beltway here. I —
SCHAKOWSKY: On a number of things, yes.
MADDOW: But what I want you to tell me is that that common wisdom is wrong and that the energy legislation can pass the Senate. What all the pundits say is wrong. What do you think?
SCHAKOWSKY: Well, actually, Harry Reid has said that it will be on the calendar in the next work period. That he wants to see a vote. We are hearing some talk from Republicans, like Dick Lugar, that it would be good — maybe not the full energy bill that we — like the one that we passed in the House, but something that sets us off in a new direction toward clean energy.
And the other thing is, the 66 percent of the people who think we should do more, this is the moment, Rachel, that they need to be contacting members of Congress and senators, particularly, and saying: don`t let this moment pass.
MADDOW: In the house, in your committee, hauling up Tony Hayward today and asking him a lot of questions, many of which he did not answer, profess an inability to answer, left me wondering what the next step is for your committee and your investigation.
SCHAKOWSKY: Well, we are going to continue to look at: are there holes in our legislation and regulation that we need to fill? For example, taking off the legislative cap on liability for companies.
SCHAKOWSKY: What are those? Obviously, we have to do more enforcement, and just more oversight. I think we have to make sure — we called in the rest of the oil companies and found out they don`t have any plans either.
SCHAKOWSKY: These are the kinds of things we need to do.
But it was stunning to see Tony Hayward sit there and say over and over again things like: I was not involved in that decision. It`s impossible for me to answer that question. I`m afraid I can`t recall that. Finally, Henry Waxman had to say, did you read the letter we sent you that had the questions? What`s the matter that you come here with nothing? So, obviously, we`re going to have to sit on BP, despite this fund, to make sure they`ll do what they`re supposed to do.
MADDOW: Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, from the subcommittee on oversight investigations in the House— it was an incredible — incredible spectacular today. Thanks for