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Tea Party leader backs Barton; Republicans, less so

It's pretty darn obvious what Democrats are doing today -- ripping into Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.) for his "apology" to BP in a fashion that makes Oceania's campaign against Emmanuel Goldstein look amateurish.

I said on ABC's "Top Line" today that Barton's comments reflect what Republicans think, but don't say so clumsily as Barton, about the $20 billion escrow fund for oil spill damages: It's worrisome, and it was handled in a way reminiscent of the much-despised "takeover" of General Motors. Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Tex.), who did not explicitly agree with Barton, called the White House's handling of the fund "unseemly" during a short CNN interview today.

Judson Phillips, the leader of Tea Party Nation and chief organizer of the upcoming National Tea Party Unity Convention, told me that Barton had a point.

"I'd call it extortion!" Phillips said, referring to the fund. "If I tried something like that, I'd be looking at a long sentence in a federal prison. There is a legal system in place to assign liability and assess damages. The regime simply wants to bypass that. By hammering BP, they can draw attention away from their own incompetence. What I think it more damaging than the spill itself is the drilling moratorium, which will put more people out of work and put more upward pressure on oil prices."

But Phillips is a private citizen. Republicans, who see Barton throwing the White House a life raft, are boiling mad. Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) is the first, I think, to go on record calling for Barton to quit his high-profile position as ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce committee, where Democrats have long made him the face of Republican fealty to the oil business. And Miller supports the fund.

By David Weigel  |  June 17, 2010; 2:42 PM ET
Categories:  Tea Party  
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