Politics & Policy

Live-Blogging the BP Hearing

11:23 A.M.: In his opening remarks at today’s BP hearings before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Rep. Joe Barton (R., Texas) came out strongly against the $20-billion liability escrow fund created by BP at the government’s urging:

“It is a tragedy of the first proportion that a private corporation can be subjected to what I would characterize as a shakedown,” said Barton, “in this case a $20 billion shakedown.”

You can watch live here.

11:29 A.M.: Just as BP CEO Tony Hayward began his opening statement, he was interrupted by an oil-covered protestor.

The woman, who was subdued by a number of Capitol Hill police and escorted from the room, could be heard shouting “You need to go to jail!” and “You need to be charged with a crime!”

11:54 A.M.: The White House issued a response to the Barton statement. “What is shameful is that Joe Barton seems to have more concern for big corporations that caused the disaster,” than for its victims, the White House said. “Most Americans know that the real tragedy is what men and women of the Gulf coast are going through right now.” The statement goes on to say that both parties should “repudiate” Barton’s comments.

11:56 A.M.: It looks like the protest was by sponsored by Code Pink.

12:26 P.M.: Rep. Bart Stupak (D., Mich.) just asked Hayward if he expected to be CEO of BP for much longer. Hayward wouldn’t answer directly. He said that he was focused on the clean-up.

12:31 P.M.: Hayward is already getting testy in his responses to Rep. Mike Burgess (R., Texas), not more than a half hour into his testimony. Not a wise move.

Burgess asks Hayward a question about his knowledge of what was going on in the Deepwater Horizon well before the explosion. Hayward responded “with all due respect, sir, we drill hundreds of wells around the world.” Burgess then says, “Yeah I know that’s what’s scaring me right now.”

12:42 P.M.: Rep. Waxman (D., Whoville) laid into Hayward, accuses Hayward of deflecting responsibility for accident and “stonewalling.” Hayward says “I’m not stonewalling, I simply wasn’t involved in the decision-making process.”

12:50 P.M.: Rep. Dingell asks Hayward about the choice of using something called “single-casing” concrete in the well bore at Deepwater Horizon instead of a “tie-back” method that is supposed to be safer. Hayward admits that the single-casing choice would have saved $7-10 million and some time on drilling. Dingell asks a rash of similar questions about other technical decisions made in the drilling process. Again and again Hayward says that since he wasn’t involved in the decision-making he can’t answer specifically why the choice were made, and can’t recall/doesn’t know how much time and money were saved by the shortcuts. Not Hayward’s finest moment.

12:56 P.M.: Burgess and Stupak have a heated back and forth. Burgess says MMS and other federal regulators should be in the room since Hayward isn’t prepared to answer relevant questions about why certain decisions were made and approved by the government. Stupak says MMS “can’t help Hayward answer the questions. He has to answer the questions himself.” Burgess says that it is clear Hayward doesn’t have the depth of technical knowledge to provide worthwhile testimony on the specifics of the accident. “Any one of us could do his job,” Burgess says.

1:00 P.M.: A one-hour recess.

2:23 P.M.: The Committee is back in session, with Rep. Ed Markey (D., Mass.) questioning Hayward on existence of oil plumes in the water column. Hayward won’t say they’re plumes; he says four parts per million in the water column, only some of it typed to the oil from the BP well.

But the big story is that some Republicans on the Hill are already calling for Joe Barton’s head over his “apology” to BP:

Republicans, particularly Gulf state lawmakers, are furious at Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) and may ask him to cede his job as top Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee in the wake of his apology to BP Thursday. 

“People are calling for his head,” said a GOP member of the committee. 

Indeed, Rep. Jeff Miller, a Florida Republican, was the first in his party to call for Barton to resign as the ranking Republican on the committee after hearing Barton call the $20 billion cleanup fund a White House “shakedown.” 

“I am shocked by Congressman Joe Barton’s reprehensible comments that the government should apologize for the ‘shakedown’ of BP,” Miller said. “BP has caused the greatest ecological and environmental disaster our nation has ever seen. 

“I condemn Mr. Barton’s statement,” Miller said. “Mr. Barton’s remarks are out of touch with this tragedy and I feel his comments call into question his judgment and ability to serve in a leadership on the Energy and Commerce Committee. He should step down as Ranking Member of the Committee”

2:36 P.M.: Hayward was just asked (didn’t catch by whom) if he considered the $20 billion escrow account as a “slush fund” a la Barton. Hayward says no.

2:42 P.M.: Sen. John Cornyn (R., Texas) has come out in at least partial defense of Barton:

“I think it’s good that there’s going to be some money there,” Cornyn said to a handful of reporters. “But I think the part that Representative Barton is expressing some concern about, that I share the concern, is that this has become a political issue for the president and he’s trying to deal with it by showing how tough he’s being against BP.”

“The president’s kind of gone from commander-in-chief to claims adjuster-in-chief,” Cornyn said. “I just think the federal government finds itself in a crisis situation and finds itself embedding the federal government in what heretofore usually has been resolved by legal contracts and the requirements of the law.”

2:52 P.M.: Hayward confirms that the relief wells are it. There are no other BP efforts to kill the well. Oil will flow at least through August.

3:19 P.M.: Barton, just now: “I think BP is completely responsible. . .If anything I said this morning has been misconstrued. . . I want to apologize for this misconstruction.”

3:38 P.M.: Wow, after all the Hayward dodging, Rep Cliff Stearns asks: “Is today Thursday, yes or no?”

Hayward: “today is Thursday”

3:44 P.M.: Rep. Scalise pulls out the first oil-covered pelican pic.

3:54 P.M.: This was just put out by Reps. Boehner (Ohio), Cantor (Va.) and Pence (Ind.):

“The oil spill in the Gulf is this nation’s largest natural disaster and stopping the leak and cleaning up the region is our top priority.  Congressman Barton’s statements this morning were wrong.  BP itself has acknowledged that responsibility for the economic damages lies with them and has offered an initial pledge of $20 billion dollars for that purpose.

“The families and businesspeople in the Gulf region want leadership, accountability and action from BP and the Administration.  It is unacceptable that, 59  days after this crisis began, no solution is forthcoming.  Simply put, the American people want all of our resources, time and focus to be directed toward stopping the spill and cleaning up the mess.”

3:57 P.M.: Rep. Charles Gonzalez (D., Texas) asks Hayward if he supports the drilling moratorium. Hayward won’t say “yes”, but says “I believe it is prudent for the industry to take stock of what has happened here before it moves forward.”

4:05 P.M.: And Barton follows up with a more formal, full-monty statement. He “retract[s]” his apology to BP:

“I apologize for using the term ‘shakedown’ with regard to yesterday’s actions at the White House in my opening statement this morning, and I retract my apology to BP. As I told my colleagues yesterday and said again this morning, BP should bear the full financial responsibility for the accident on their lease in the Gulf of Mexico. BP should fully compensate those families and businesses that have been hurt by this accident. BP and the federal government need to stop the leak, clean up the damage, and take whatever steps necessary to prevent a similar accident in the future.

“I regret the impact that my statement this morning implied that BP should not pay for the consequences of their decisions and actions in this incident.”

4:10 P.M.: Hayward: “My compensation last year was $6 million.” He kind of chokes on the last few words.

4:39 P.M.: Hayward says he still trusts blowout preventer as “ultimate fail-safe” but says design must be looked at in light of spill. Hayward also said that flow rate of functioning well would have been about 25k barrels per day, much slower than leak rate.

4:43 P.M.: The word is that the GOP reacted swiftly to the Barton comments, giving him an ultimatum. And even after his apology, it looks like his position is anything but assured:

House Republican leaders told Rep. Joe Barton that he would be stripped of his ranking member status on a key committee Thursday if he did not immediately apologize for comments earlier in the day accusing President Obama of a “shakedown” of oil giant BP, sources told the Daily Caller.

“He was told, ‘Apologize, immediately. Or you will lose your position, immediately,” a House GOP leadership aide said, describing a meeting between Barton and House Minority Leader John Boehner and House Minority Whip Eric Cantor.

“Now that he has apologized, we’ll see what happens going forward,” the GOP aide said.

5:11 P.M.: Rep. Peter Welch (D., Vt.) sets a Bush Trap for Hayward, asks him if there were any mistakes made that led up the spill. Hayward won’t name one.

5:29 P.M.:  In closing the hearing, Stupak thanks Hayward for coming “voluntarily,” but warns that “members are frustrated because the answers we’ve heard time and time again are things like ‘I wasn’t involved in that decision,’ ‘I don’t know,…’ I think the evasiveness of your answers…only served to increase the frustration…not just of members but of the American people.”

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