WASHINGTON -- Rep. Joe Barton, R-Arlington, secured his position as the ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee this morning by apologizing -- again -- for his explosive comments about BP, this time to the House Republican Conference.
"If a Texan can be humble, I'm humble," Barton told Republican House members gathered at the Capitol Hill Club for their regular weekly meeting, according to members present in the closed session.
House Republican Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, who had threatened to remove Barton as ranking member, reportedly told members that "it's time to move on."
However, the story took another twist when Barton’s Twitter page seemed to undermine his sincerity shortly after his latest apology with a posted link to an American Spectator article titled “Joe Barton was right.”
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The Tweet was deleted quickly, but not before Democrats seized on it and distributed it widely. Barton press secretary Sean Brown told the Star-Telegram that he was responsible for linking the article on the lawmaker’s Twitter page and that “Mr. Barton was not aware of the Tweet.”
Barton created a firestorm last Thursday at a congressional hearing by apologizing to BP chief executive office Tony Hayward for the White House pressuring the company responsible for the Gulf oil spill to create a $20 billion escrow fund for victims -- which the Texas lawmaker called "a shakedown" and "a slush fund."
Boehner and House GOP Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., immediately met with Barton and told him his ranking membership was at risk if he did not retract the apology. Barton returned to the hearing and stopped short of a full retraction, saying that he apologized if his remarks were "misconstrued."
That angered GOP leaders who forced Barton to issue a written statement giving a complete retraction.
Barton went underground afterwards but began calling many House Republican members, including the Texas delegation and those on the energy and commerce panel.
Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Midland, told the Star-Telegram that he spoke with Barton over the weekend and that "I don't think what he did warrants removal as ranking member."
In any case, Barton is at the end of his three-terms as the top Republican on the powerful committee. House Republican rules limit him to six years unless the leader grants him a waiver - a prospect that is now considered less likely than it was last week.