The weekend break and subsequent disavowals from Republican lawmakers have not been enough to cool the political heat surrounding Rep. Joe Barton after the Texas Republican apologized to BP for its treatment by the Obama White House and then apologized for the apology.
At the White House, the comment from Barton was viewed by aides as a crucial turning point -- an almost divine political gift that would allow the president to contrast his results-oriented response (the securing of a $20 billion escrow account) with the corporate apologists in the GOP. Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is said to be quite pleased with the interview he gave to ABC's "This Week," in which he hammered this contrast on multiple occasions.
On Monday, the Democratic National Committee sent reporters clips of Emanuel, in addition to other editorials and write-ups of the Barton snafu. The committee also pushed around a second anecdote, culled from a three-day-old story, in which Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Cali.) talked about his personal ambition to be less tough on corporate America once the Republicans take back control of Congress.
The elements, indeed, are all there for a Democratic field day. The only question is how long the party can keep Barton in the news.
According to conventional wisdom, the issue should stay relevant as long as the spill lasts. The more that BP is involved in resuscitating the Gulf Coast, the longer the administration can point to the oil giant's sympathizer in Congress. High-ranking Democratic officials have pledged to draw the themes of this debate all the way through the election.
"Well yeah," said DCCC Chair Chris Van Hollen when asked if this would be a topic of discussion in November. "Here is the point. It fits into a larger narrative about where Republicans stand. Every Republican in the House voted against reining in the big banks and here they are apologizing to a big oil company that has created havoc in the Gulf and are criticizing the president for putting a fund together to help the victims. It's not just Barton. Over 110 members of the Republican Study Group used the exact same language."
"This is not an isolated statement," Van Hollen added, "it is a statement from the guy in charge of their energy policy. It was a very revealing moment and it fits into the larger pattern."
Van Hollen, of course, is overseeing the House races this fall. And it stands to reason that Barton's comments would have more resonance in elections to that chamber than to the Senate (the congressman, after all, is poised to head one of the more powerful committees in the House if the GOP comes back to power). But Senate Democrats are also trying to reap political advantage from the remarks, pushing respective candidates to weigh in on the debate even after the leading Republican in that chamber -- Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) -- rebuked Barton on "Fox News Sunday".
"Many Republican Senate candidates have spent their careers standing-up for big oil," said DSCC spokesman Eric Schultz. "With a single soundbite, Congressman Barton reinforced exactly what voters find offensive about Republicans -- they put the needs of special interests ahead of the needs of everyday Americans. When they refuse to denounce their own colleague for crossing the line, they tell us everything we need to know about where they stand and who they stand with."