Bachmann takes fire from left and right over BP ‘extortion’ comments

Rep. Michele Bachmann
MinnPost/Raoul Benavides
Rep. Michele Bachmann

WASHINGTON — This time last week, Rep. Michele Bachmann’s comments about BP and their $20 billion cleanup fund didn’t seem such a big deal on the Republican side of the aisle. But that’s no longer true.

“Now it seems that it’s all about extortion,” Bachmann told the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank last Tuesday. Her comments were about the Obama administration’s efforts to force BP into establishing a $20 billion cleanup fund for the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Lest anyone think she misspoke, Bachmann reinforced those remarks later that day in a conversation with the Washington Post’s Dave Weigel. If she were the head of BP, Bachmann posited, she’d send the message that “We’re not going to be chumps, and we’re not going to be fleeced.”

She was not alone. Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich made similar comments, as did Rep. Tom Price, head of the conservative Republican Study Committee (which counts Bachmann and Rep. John Kline among its 114 members).

“BP’s reported willingness to go along with the White House’s new fund suggests that the Obama Administration is hard at work exerting its brand of Chicago-style shakedown politics,” Price said in a statement Wednesday. “These actions are emblematic of a politicization of our economy that has been borne out of this Administration’s drive for greater power and control.”

But just as Republicans seemed to be coalescing around that line of thinking, Texas Rep. Joe Barton, the ranking Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, crossed a bridge too far.

Barton, reading a prepared statement hearing during a Thursday hearing with BP CEO Tony Hayward, apologized to Hayward for what he called a White House “shakedown,” which Barton added he was “ashamed” of. House GOP leaders, quickly sensing the gaffe, threatened Barton with losing his committee perch unless he apologized for his apology, which he did later that day.

Now, such comments are an anathema, and Republicans are trying to distance themselves from the Bachmanns and Bartons of the world just as fast as Democrats are trying to tie them all together.

All with an eye on the November elections.

Heat at home, frost on Fox
Sure enough, DFL-endorsed challenger Tarryl Clark wasted no time cutting an ad hitting Bachmann on BP. The ad first appeared online next to a funding appeal, which raised enough money to begin airing on television Sunday night, campaign officials said.

“Congresswoman Bachmann won’t hold BP accountable, but we will hold her accountable for siding with special interests over the people of her district,” said Zach Rodvold, Clark’s campaign manager in announcing the ad. “Her constituents deserve to know: Congresswoman Bachmann stands with BP, not with us.  It’s time for a representative who is really on their side.”

In a column on the same subject for the Washington newspaper The Hill, published this morning, Clark called Bachmann’s BP comments “outrageous.”

State Sen. Tarryl Clark
State Sen. Tarryl Clark

In a statement released by her campaign, Bachmann said Clark’s attacks amounted to “false claims and distortions.”

“In each of the interviews I have given, I have stated that BP is liable to fully compensate victims for the damage they have inflicted on the Gulf Coast with this tragic accident,” Bachmann said. “It’s important to make the victims whole, and the American taxpayer should not pay one dime for the mess created by this spill.”

That Democrats would seize on Bachmann’s remarks is nothing surprising. The reaction from two usually-sympathetic talkers at Fox News was.

Bill O’Reilly asked Bachmann repeatedly about her extortion comments during the course of a six-minute interview Friday, eventually telling her she was “dodging” the question.

Bachmann answered that the BP execs who agreed to the $20 billion fund did so under the threat of criminal prosecution (“thinking they might end up in the slammer” were her words).

“Is that wrong? Is that wrong to put that kind of pressure on them?” O’Reilly asked rhetorically.

“The only thing we are disagreeing about, here, today, is I don’t mind Obama saying, ‘You better do the right thing or we’re coming after you with everything we have.’ I want him to do that.”

Fox talker Geraldo Rivera also took a harder-than-usual tone in questioning Bachmann on the extortion claim.

Now, make no mistake, not everyone on the right side of the aisle has distanced themselves from criticizing remarks like Barton’s or Bachmman’s. Iowa Rep. Steve King, with whom Bachmann shares a press assistant, told conservative talk radio host Laura Ingraham that Barton was “spot-on when he called it a shakedown.”

Steven Smith, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis who commutes there from Minnesota, said the issue will linger into the fall election campaign.

“This is an issue with legs,” Smith said, “BP and the oil spill will be newsworthy for weeks. Siding with BP is going to be seen as bad policy.”

“The administration’s effort to set up a mechanism for quick and fair compensation at the expense of BP, which promised the compensation, is not likely to be seen as extortion by the middle-of-the-road voter,” Smith said. “Bachmann’s comments will likely be used by Clark effectively against her.”

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Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/22/2010 - 10:17 am.

    I just have to say two things. One, where was all this about executive power abuse when Bush and Cheney were stomping on the Bill of Rights with illegal wire taps, detentions, and torture? Two, I hope at least a few people realize than any threat Obama would make regarding “jail-time” would be recognized as hollow threats by everyone in the room. The president cannot direct prosecutions, nor can he lock people up at (unless you rely on the Bush/Cheney interpretation of the constitution). Nor can the president decline prosecution or guarantee there will be no prosecutions.

    I’ve got megalomania on the brain today so I’ll say it: Bachmann’s a megalomaniac. The reason she cannot recognize any discrepancies between her own hysteria and reality is that her own hysteria’s are all she recognizes as being real. She’s willing to attempt any political outrage so long as she thinks it’s self aggrandizing. You can see in her interview with O’Reilly that her only objective is to cast herself as a champion of liberty against the tyrant Obama.

  2. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 06/22/2010 - 10:20 am.

    If the polling results from the Bachmann/Tinklenberg race are correct. There are about 60,000 loyal evangelicals that played a huge role in the Bachmann victory. They will not shift their alliance to Sen. Clark. The only question that remains unanswered is; how narrow will the Bachmann victory be?

  3. Submitted by bea sinna on 06/22/2010 - 12:39 pm.

    What a great way to start off the campaign ad season: Clark jumps on something stupid that Bachmann said and then buys media time to play it out instead of telling us what she stands for. Months of this to go and I’m sick of it already.

  4. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/22/2010 - 01:44 pm.

    //The only question that remains unanswered is; how narrow will the Bachmann victory be?

    I don’t know, I was wondering how may voters live in Bachmann’s district? if it’s more than 121,000 someone can beat her.

  5. Submitted by dan buechler on 06/22/2010 - 03:22 pm.

    I suppose any time I had to put earnest money on anything I was extorted but doing so seemed perfectly fair and reasonable to me. I’m hoping some Bubba gives Representative Bachmann a great big bear hug someday. She is a jewel. By the way feminists I am an equal opportunity slanderer I previously wrote that Emmer and Dayton seem to be doing the valsalva maneuver.

  6. Submitted by Greg Lang on 06/22/2010 - 03:50 pm.

    I believe that BP will probably file for bankruptcy, at least in their US division before this ends. If so, this “first come, first served” system could be a real mess unless it is based on a lien on future claims.

    On CNBC a couple of days ago, retired General Electric head Jack Welch was discussing the Hudson River PCB cleanup and claims. When GE required tax returns from a few years back the claims went down 90%.

    The truth be told, in more remote areas there is a huge “cash economy”. In the case of the Gulf the oil companies pay out huge amount in “nuisance claims” to “fisherpeople” (being PC)

    As for the out of work oil workers due to the drilling moratorium these has W2’s but was the drilling moratorium a rational decision? If a court decides it is not are the American public liable for the payouts given?

    I don’t deny that the Gulf is on of the great fisheries in the US but Kramer claimed on CNBC that their greatest export is fish for cat food. Shrimp are definitely nice but thinks like oysters, clams and crayfish are local delicacies. In the US we prefer Tuna or cold water fish that have the more “heart healthy” oils.

    Was this a “shakedown?”. In the direct sense of “money to me” sense no it wasn’t. In the use of the bully pulpit or threat to use it perhaps it was. We should remember President Obama trashing corporate junkets to Vegas. The convention business is waning anyway but recently Nevada surpassed Michigan when it came to unemployment.

    Corporate structures are highly compartmentalized and BP US assets are highly fungible (On a tangible local level what if the BP gas station franchise is sold in US bankruptcy and becomes (in a flight of fantasy) “Greg Lang” brand gas stations? Local BP station franchisees would love “anything but BP”. Domestic leases and domestic producing wells can be bought and sold. (fungible). If this does not meet claims this early payout without a lien. If a BP US bankruptcy occurs before the general election or seems pending Clark’s current ad could backfire.

  7. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 06/22/2010 - 06:17 pm.

    Don’t get me wrong, my wish would be for Sen. Clark to win. But Bachmann resonates with the folks that vote in the sixth. One only has to look at the billboards while traveling through that district. Right to life is a big deal to her constituency. It will take a huge DFL turnout for Clark to prevail. The sixth is Bachmann’s niche.

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