White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel on Sunday portrayed Republicans as sympathetic to BP, saying that a House Republican's controversial apology to the oil giant is emblematic of the party's views.
Mr. Emanuel also dismissed Pentagon comments that a scheduled July 2011 withdraw of U.S. troops in Afghanistan might not be feasible - another attempt to reverse sagging poll numbers for President Obama and Democrats in advance of the November congressional elections.
Rep. Joe L. Barton, Texas Republican, on Thursday accused the administration of extortion after it secured a $20 billion compensation fund from BP for victims of the oil spill, calling the move a "shakedown."
The lawmaker later apologized, but not before Democratic leaders painted the conservative Texan - and the Republican Party in general - as beholden to oil companies at the expense of the environment.
"That's not a political gaffe, those are prepared remarks," said Mr. Emanuel on the Sunday broadcast of ABC's "This Week."
"That is a philosophy. That is an approach to what they see. They see the aggrieved party here as BP, not the fishermen."
Mr. Emanuel, while acknowledging that Mr. Barton's comments were a "political gift" to Democrats, said that the congressman's remarks are "dangerous for the American people," because, if Republicans controlled the House, Mr. Barton would be chairman of the chamber's powerful energy committee.
Mr. Emanuel also lumped Mr. Barton together with Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul of Kentucky, who recently called the administration's treatment of BP "un-American."
"They see that the government's the problem," Mr. Emanuel said. "I think what Joe Barton did is remind the American people, in case they forgot, this is how the Republicans would govern."
However, top Republican leaders have been quick to distance themselves and the party from Mr. Barton, and every Republican lawmaker who appeared on Sunday's political talk shows denounced Mr. Bartons words.
Sen. Richard C. Shelby, Alabama Republican, whose state's Gulf coastline has been hit by the spill, called Mr. Barton's comments "dumb" and said they did not represent the party.
"He only spoke for himself, and then he tried to get away from that after there was pressure put on him" to apologize, said Mr. Shelby on CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday. "We don't owe BP an apology. They owe the people of the Gulf an apology, the American people."
Mr. Shelby added that Barton's remarks are "not mainstream Republican thought."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, on Sunday called Democratic attempts to portray Republicans as caring more for oil companies than the environment as "nonsense."
"I couldn't disagree with Joe Barton more," said Mr. McConnell on "Fox News Sunday."
"BP doesn't need an apology; they need to apologize to us."
Mr. McConnell also hinted of White House hypocrisy, saying that BP was a big contributor to Mr. Obama's presidential campaign.
"The president himself is in charge of developing a contingency plan to deal with oil spills. What happened to it?" the minority leader said. "The administration has a role to play in this, and they haven't done a very good job so far."
And while Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Alaska Republican, said Mr. Barton's words were "wrong, absolutely wrong," she also criticized White House efforts to make a political issue of the matter as a needless distraction. She said Mr. Emanuel's description of her party "couldn't be more wrong" and accused the administration of blood politics.
"For the White House, for the administration to be running with this as the issue - let's not forget; we had 11 people die; we have an environmental disaster unfolding; we have an economic disaster that is unfolding. Let's not be distracted by saying 'Joe Barton made this gaffe or this inappropriate comment,' " she said on CNN's "State of the Union." "Let's focus on providing what the people of the Gulf need, not pointing fingers back and forth and saying, 'Oh, you know, what you said was wrong.' "
Lawmakers from both parties on Sunday criticized BP PLC Chief Executive Tony Hayward for taking part in a yacht race along the English coast two days after testifying on Capitol Hill regarding his company's role in the oil spill.
Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao, Louisiana Republican, said he was "very disappointed of how out of touch the executives at BP are."
"Our people are suffering tremendously down here," said Mr. Cao on "Face the Nation."
"I just received news from a staffer of mine that a Vietnamese fisherman actually tried to commit suicide. So it's a situation that is quite desperate for thousands of people."
Mr. Emanuel said on "This Week" that "I think we can all conclude that Tony Hayward is not going to have a second career in PR consulting."
The president's top adviser also attempted to bolster the administration's image by reaffirming its promise to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan by July 2011, distancing itself from Pentagon comments that the move could take longer.
"There's a firm date," said Mr. Emanuel on "This Week."
"The July  date, as stated by the president, that's not moving, that's not changing. Everybody agreed on that date."
In contrast, Gen. David H. Petraeus told a congressional committee last week that any U.S. troop withdrawal would be "based on conditions," and that "July 2011 is not the date where we race for the exits."
Mr. Emanuel said the White House and Pentagon positions are "not inconsistent" because both have agreed that "what will be determined [in July 2011], or going into that date, will be the scale and scope of that reduction.
"But there will be no doubt that [a withdrawal is] going to happen" in July 2011, he said.
Mr. Emanuel said the deadline has created a "sense of urgency" for U.S.-led forces and Afghan authorities to push toward greater stability in the country.
He added that the administration's "surge" of 30,000 troops to Afghanistan this year - a deployment that is about two-thirds completed, according to Gen. Petraeus - has done much to improve security in the country.
"This is creating a window of opportunity for Afghanistan," Mr. Emanuel said. "We are now at that point in Afghanistan that, for the first time in nine years, they are actually meeting their police-recruitment requirements, as well as their army-recruitment requirements."
Mr. Emanuel also said the war in Afghanistan has lead to the elimination of about half of al Qaeda's forces in the country in the past 18 months.
"We're taking the pressure to al Qaeda; we're taking the pressure to Afghanistan," he said.
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