On Capitol Hill, a week of sorry spectacles
Was it me, or did it seem like everyone in Washington this week was wearing a name tag that said, “Hi, I’m Sorry.” For all the hours of congressional testimony, all the badgering questions and evasive answers, the gestalt of the nation’s capital could be summed up in two words: “My bad.” The four top acts of penance:
He’s in critical contrition: Though several tried, no one topped Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), the wizard of oooops. Anyone can apologize once, but only a true master of mea culpa can do it three times in a few hours, then close with an apology for an apology.
Sorry Joe started with a whopper. In his opening statement at the public filleting of BP CEO Tony Hayward at a House subcommittee hearing Thursday, the repentant Republican felt compelled to share the shame he felt over Barack Obama forcing BP execs to pony up at least $20 billion for Gulf oil spill damages.
The conscience of the congressman who’s received almost $1.5 million in campaign contributions from oil and gas companies since the 1980s was so stricken that he called the deal a “shakedown,’ and the $20 billion a “slush fund.” Then he looked into the eyes of the man who may be America’s Most Hated right now and said, “I apologize.” Twice.
Few know the location of Capitol Hill’s woodshed, but clearly Barton was summoned to it by GOP leaders during the lunch break, because afterwards he was of a somewhat different mind. Still sorry, but now sorry for having been a little too sorry to the company contaminating the Gulf.
But this second apology did nothing to soothe Barton’s troubled soul? Despite his earlier “sorry,” and to emphasize to all that he did not actually feel sorry for BP, Barton’s office issued a more detailed statement — one that first had to be approved by House Republican leader John Boehner. This time, apparently, he had finally gotten in touch with his real feelings. He was retracting Apology # 1, his wet kiss to BP.
Barack Obama had to be sorry, too — to see the day end.
Among the tall oafs: Until Barton’s command performance, seemed a shoo-in as the week’s sorriest man. After his tense White House meeting with Obama on Wednesday, Svanberg publicly apologized for what BP has wrought in the Gulf. But at his own mea culpa moment, he was struck by the insidious version of BP tourette’s syndrome that causes its company’s execs to proclaim stunningly inappropriate things before live cameras. While stressing how much he and BP cared for all Gulf Coast residents Svanberg called them “the small people.” Three times.
This, oddly enough, did not make “the small people” feel better. Svanberg responded with yet another apology, this time for being so “clumsy” with his first one.
How do you like me now? Due to his own struggles with word choice, BP CEO Tony Hayward is becoming expert in the art of seeking forgiveness. Before his grilling by House Democrats Thursday, Hayward read a statement in which he said he was “deeply sorry” that he “deeply regretted” the spill’s impact on the Gulf, and offered his “sincere condolences” to the families of the 11 men killed in the DeepWater Horizon explosion.
He was far less generous with explanations for what caused the spill and for why BP initially downplayed its seriousness. Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), had a lot of questions about the BP cost-cutting decisions that could have made the oil rig more vulnerable to an explosion. But usually Talky Tony didn’t have many answers. As Dana Milbank noted in the Washington Post:
By the end, the Q&A had become little more than a collection of “I don’ts” (55 mentions), “I’m nots” (42), “I can’ts” (28) and scores more “I wasn’ts,” “I haven’ts” and the like.
Looks like Tony may soon be getting his life back.
Not exactly what he had in mind: And finally, a round of one-hand clapping to for his appearance with four other Big Oil chiefs before a House subcommittee on Tuesday. Rep. Ed Markey pounded away on BP America Chairman Lamar McKay to admit that either BP deliberately misled the federal government about the size of the leak or that BP was simply incompetent. McKay was unmoved.
Eventually, an exasperated Markey said he would give McKay one last chance to apologize for getting the leak estimate wrong. Finally, McKay uttered the “S”-word. He was s-s-s-sorry… for “everything the Gulf Coast is going through.”