CSPANBP America CEO Tony McGaffeypants Hayward made his first appearance before Congress today, facing questions from the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
What did it accomplish? What new information did it unearth?
Ha, ha. Maybe you haven’t seen a Congressional hearing before. Hayward had little to say beyond a chorus of “I don’t know”s in response to questions about drilling practices, the Deepwater Horizon explosion, and the company’s inept response to the Gulf leak.
“I cannot recall … I am not prepared to draw conclusions about this accident,” he said.
Hayward’s lack of candor ticked off committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), who said, “I’m amazed at this testimony. You’re not taking responsibility. You are kicking the can down the road, acting as if you have nothing to do with these decisions.”
TIME‘s Bryan Walsh details the stonewalling:
After putting off his appearance before Congress for a week, supposedly to be have more time to prepare, Hayward brought nothing new to the hearing. He couldn’t tell Congress whether there were oil plumes under the water. (Last month he’d denied that there were, though government and independent scientists have since confirmed that they exist.) Hayward was asked about reports that oil-spill cleanup workers employed by BP weren’t being given proper safety equipment-he said that BP was “endeavoring to provide safety equipment.” The closest time Hayward came to finding responsibility for what went wrong on Deepwater Horizon-aside from saying generally that BP was sorry for the spill-was when he blamed the failure of the blowout preventer, the last-ditch safety device that should have shut off the well after the rig exploded.
Despite the lack of answers, the real point of the hearing was accomplished: Hayward received his ritual hand-slapping from members of Congress, who did their venting in their opening statements.
The hearing’s fun came when ranking Republican Joe Barton (Texas) “apologized” to BP for the White House “shakedown” that forced it to set up a $20 billion fund to pay for damages:
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
That was surprising, even for a lawmaker who’s taken $27,350 from BP. Barton’s comment stole the show from Hayward (he should write Barton another check for that), drawing attention from Democrats, the White House, and even fellow Republicans, who blasted Barton for his comment.
Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) had this to say:
I condemn Mr. Barton’s statement. 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.
House Republicans reportedly warned Barton to “apologize, immediately” or they’d strip his committee seat. The rift among Republican leadership — about whether to stand by BP’s side or (gasp) side with President Obama and Democrats in holding BP accountable — was the hearing’s most important development.
Are leaders on the right reconsidering their typical opposition to environmental protection in the face of the Gulf leak? There’s not much evidence of that, alas. But Barton found that it’s possible for a Republican to go too far in defending corporate irresponsibility. That’s Congress’s glimmer of hope for the day.