MSNBC Declares Barton's Comments a Big Victory for Dems; Bring on Van Jones Afterwards

If you take MSNBC's Luke Russert's words at face value, you would think the Democrats are going to win big this November–all thanks to Rep. Joe Barton's (R-Texas) comments on the Obama administration's treatment of BP, and their "shakedown" of the company via the escrow fund.

"A lot of Democrats see this as the ammunition they need to directly tie the Republican Party with that of big oil," Russert summarized.

Barton expressed his disapproval at the hearing for the White House's treatment of BP in forcing them to agree to the $20 billion escrow fund, calling it a "shakedown." MSNBC anchor Contessa Brewer was visibly irritated during her news hour with the statement, and Russert called it a "really big blunder."

However, as NewsBusters reported, MSNBC's own Ed Schultz was ecstatic yesterday over the very actions of the White House, and spoke positively of the "shakedown."

Russert mentioned comments from multiple Republicans distancing themselves from Rep. Barton's comments, including House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio). "One Republican I spoke to said 'This was absolutely one of the worst things that could have ever happened to us. We essentially gave the Democrats an early Christmas gift with this one'," Russert reported.

'This is great news for the White House," Russert continued. "They've been coming under attack for not taking an authoritative leadership position–they can now spin this as a political issue."

Russert also mentioned Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn.) who called the escrow fund a "redistribution of wealth" fund, and essentially put her in the same camp with Barton.

"A really big political victory today for Democrats on Mr. Barton's slip-up," Russert concluded.

MSNBC then brought on Gov. Haley Barbour (R-Miss.), but lost him in the middle of his segment.

The network then switched to liberal guest Van Jones, who defended the Obama administration's response to the disaster.

"There is a whole ideology at play here that says 'We hate the federal government. The federal government is a problem'," Van Jones added. "The last time I checked, the federal government was America's government. America's government does not need to be weakened and undermined."

The transcript of the segment, which aired on June 17, at 3:42 p.m. EDT, is as follows:

MSNBC anchor CHRIS JANSING: BP's CEO Tony Hayward, since 10:00 this morning, with a couple of breaks, maybe an hour and forty-five–he has been on the hot seat for four hours, give or take, and one huge piece of controversial statements that came out of this didn't come from him but came from a Congressman Joe Barton who called the agreement to set off fund to pay the people who have been hurt by this a "$20 billion slush fund." He accused the White House of a shakedown and he apologized to BP for what happened in setting that up. Now he came back in just about the last half hour. He said in case anything was misconstrued, he is fully behind this investigation of BP's actions and that there is no doubt in his mind that BP is responsible for this spill. Let's go to our Capitol Hill correspondent Luke Russert, and this has set off a storm of controversy, Luke.

LUKE RUSSERT: It absolutely has, Chris. A really amazing subplot within the hearing. Mr. Barton saying that he is apologizing to BP for the White House making them set up this escrow fund. A lot of Democrats see this as the ammunition they need to directly tie the Republican party with that of big oil.  Mr. Barton's comments have not just upset Democrats, they have upset a lot of his fellow Republicans. One Republican from Florida, Jeff Miller, someone who's from the area that's directly affected by this spill, calling on Mr. Barton to resign as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Also John Boehner, the Republican Majority Leader of the Republican party, the Minority Leader of the Republican party saying, quote, that he does not agree with the characterization that Mr. Barton made. He himself tried to distance himself from those comments. Really quite extraordinary, party leaders trying to keep Joe Barton away. Barton is from Texas. Records have shown that he is a friend of big oil. Since 1989, he has gotten well over a million dollars in donations from the folks attached to the oil industry, or the oil companies themselves. So it's not too shocking he would probably make a statement like that. That being said, a huge political firestorm up here on Capitol Hill, one that is so big that even the Vice President had this to say at a press conference at the White House this afternoon.

(Video Clip) Vice President JOE BIDEN: And I find it outrageous to suggest that if in fact we insisted that BP demonstrate their preparedness to put aside billions of dollars–in this case $20 billion–to take care of the immediate needs of people who are drowning. These guys don't have deep pockets. The guy who runs the local marina, the guy who has one shrimping boat, the guy who has one small business–he can't afford to lose ten, twelve, fifteen thirty thousand dollars a.month.

RUSSERT: There you have Vice President Biden speaking out very forcefully about Mr. Barton's comments. Now we should say that Mr. Barton just apologized at the committee hearing, saying that he was sorry if anyone misconstrued his comments earlier, and that he does–that BP is in fact responsible for this spill. But the damage has really been done. One Republican I spoke to said this was absolutely one of the worst things that could have ever happened to us. We essentially gave the Democrats an early Christmas gift with this one. A really big blunder on Mr. Barton's part, Chris. Now Michelle Bachmann from Minnesota has also dived into this, saying that this escrow fund was a "redistribution of wealth fund." You're going to see Democrats in the next few days really trying to paint Republicans as the party of big oil, something they have desperately wanted to do. This is great news for the White House. They've been coming under attack for not taking an authoritative leadership position–they can now spin this as a political issue. They were very quick to release a statement against Mr. Barton. As you saw, the Vice President speaking out forcefully right there, this will now become "Republicans are with big oil, we're with the residents of the Gulf, who are on the Democratic side." A really big political victory today for Democrats on Mr. Barton's slipup.

JANSING: Thanks very much, we appreciate it, Luke.We want to talk now to Gov. Haley Barbour, he is at a new Toyota plant that is opening in Blue Springs, Mississippi. Something interesting here, because one of the groups of people we've seen in the past will probably have a little understanding of what the BP execs have gone through with these hearings are some of the Toyota execs who have been in the hot seat before. And I do, governor, want to ask you, of course, about what's going on there with the Toyota plant. But let me ask you first if you have had a chance to watch any of these hearings today, and if so , what do you think about them?

Gov. HALEY BARBOUR: We have had the pleasure in Mississippi of announcing that Toyota decided this morning, and announced this morning, that they will go forward with the start of operations for their new facility in Blue Springs, Mississippi, and begin it in February of 2011, just over a near from now. They will have Corollas coming off the assembly line here, 2,000 jobs for us in this plant plus more than that in supplier facilities around North Mississippi. It's a big day for us, we have been celebrating, I haven't been paying attention to Congress.

JANSING: Well let me tell you a little bit about what was said there, maybe you had a chance to hear a little bit of what Luke Russert said. Because I think it certainly is relevant to your constituents who may have claims against BP. He said he thought this $20 billion in escrow was in fact a shakedown by the White House, that it's a $20 billion slush fund, and he apologized to BP. What do you think about that?

BARBOUR: Well first of all, it's not $20 billion. I mean, when I heard this announced by the President, it concerned me that BP was going to have $20 billion taken and put into an escrow account. BP owes the people of Mississippi every bit of damage that's been done. It's BP's responsibility to pay, we expect them to pay, we're going to demand that they pay. But if the government had taken $20 billion of working capital from them, we were worried they couldn't drill wells. Now we found out what the facts are, that it's not $20 billion now, it's $3 billion in the next quarter, $2 billion in the following quarter and then $5 billion in 12, $5 billion in 13, $45 billion at 14. That makes me feel much better, it makes me know that BP is going to be able to operate so they can generate the revenue to pay the people of Mississippi what BP owes them. Because BP is responsible for paying all the claims for all the legitimate damages that's been done.

JANSING: So in other words you think that what the White House has arranged, that this escrow fund–

BARBOUR: She must not have liked my answer, I lost her.

JANSING: Well, that was not the case, I want to make sure that he understands that it was nothing about his answer, I'm not quite sure why his ability to listen dropped out. I'm sorry, tell me again where we're going?

JANSING: We're going to go now to Van Jones, who joins us live. Thanks very much for joining us, I'm sorry for the little bit of confusion, apparently our previous guest had some IFP problems. Have you had an opportunity to be listening to these hearings?

JONES: I have.

JANSING: You've been sitting there listening. So tell me what you think about this controversy, real controversy, false controversy, about the $20 billion fund?

JONES: I think a real controversy, I mean, I was stunned and shocked. I don't think any American official should be apologizing to this corporation that you saw all day long, here's the head of this corporation, a multinational corporation that's come to our country. As best we can tell, they corrupted our government. They slagged up our coastline. The criminal negligence has resulted in the death of innocent workers. America's beauty, environment, workers, economy, all at risk. And the first thing out of the Republican leader's mouth is to say "I'm sorry" to you? I think he has to apologize for the apology. But I think this is not just an accident. Night and day to hear the governor of Mississippi, who yesterday was attacking the first victory for America in this fight–getting this escrow fund is the first victory–you heard the governor of Mississippi who was just on this show yesterday attacking that. You have Michelle Bachmann calling it a redistribution of wealth fund. This is outrageous. This is the first glimmer of hope for the people in that region, there will be money on the table to help them get through this tough time. You have one party who is consistently, not just this official, but consistently, attacking this result. On the one hand, you've got the President of the United States who says he wants to kick some ass, and now you've got the other side saying apparently they want to kiss some ass. Apparently they believe there's nothing a multinational corporation can do that's wrong and nothing that the American government can do that's right in this catastrophe.

JANSING: Let me tell you what Senator John Cornyn had to say. Because he kind of gave a little bit of a defense of that statement. He said he believes that the president has made this a political issue. And he's trying to deal with it by showing how tough he's being against BP. He's gone from being Commander in Chief to Claims Adjustor in Chief.

 JONES: First of all, in this situation, one of the biggest catastrophes to ever hit our country, we should be proud that our President has stood up. With his address to the country, he said, "I'm going after BP. I'm going to make sure they're responsible. The next day he brought them into the office. He said "Listen, you're going to have put $20 billion on the table to make sure that this is going to be handled the right way. They said, "Yes, sir." He said $100 million to make sure that our workers are going to be taken care of. Yes sir. $500 million to make sure that the help is assessed properly. Yes sir. He is getting this corporation to finally step up and do the things that they should do.

Now, I cannot understand why we have people in our government who want American government to be weaker in the face of this crisis. We need America's government to be stronger. This is not an accident. There is a whole ideology at play here that says "We hate the federal government, the federal government is a problem." The last time I checked the federal government was America's government. America's government does not need to be weakened and undermined. America's government needs to be strong enough to protect us from these kinds of predatory multinational corporations coming over here hurting the American people.

JANSING: Well I'm curious about how you think, then, that these kinds of hearings play into that. I was checking out the British newspapers to see how they were covering this. And one of them said this was a public flogging of Tony Hayward. And I guess there are two general schools of thought. One is that this is nothing more than a chance for all the members of this committee to grand stand, to get their names in the local paper. Nobody thought we were going to get anything new out of Tony Hayward. Nothing is accomplished here, and they could be better, their time could be better spent working on the very real problems that have come out of this. On the other end of the spectrum is the idea that, you know what, this is an example for other CEOs. You do what BP did, and this is what's going to happen. You, you're going to end up sitting there and have all the nation watching you. Where do you come down on that?

 JONES: Well, first of all let's be clear. We did not know that this CEO was going to sit there and stone wall and stonewall. And he went to talk to the President and came out of that with real victories for the American people. The first glimmer of hope, the first victory for America in the past 60 days was yesterday. So there's no reason to think he wouldn't sit down and be forthright. He made a decision to sit there and look like he's at the principal's office, just waiting for for bell to ring and mom to come and get him. That was his choice. But he could have actually given the American people some comfort, some answers. We are 60 days into this process. He knows more than he said. And I think that what we've got to understand is that going forward, you're going to see a big contrast. You're going to have some people in American politics, who I hope they keep talking, that are going to make it clear. In the choice between standing with this multinational corporation, this oil company, or standing with the American people, they're going to find every excuse to defend and apologize for–literally apologize for this corporation's egregious, disgusting behavior. And you're going to have other people who stand with the American people. That's going to be the contrast going forth. It turned into theater because, again, this corporation refused, once again refused, to do the minimum, the minimum that would have been decent and respectful to the American people.
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014