Via RCP, a belated retreat from the insane spectacle of using congressional hearings on the biggest environmental disaster in U.S. history to sympathize with the culprit. (A culprit known to say things like this, no less.) Members of the caucus have been screaming at Boehner all day to make the pain go away, and now he’s going to try. A joint statement from him, Cantor, and Pence:

“The oil spill in the Gulf is this nation’s largest natural disaster and stopping the leak and cleaning up the region is our top priority. Congressman Barton’s statements this morning were wrong. BP itself has acknowledged that responsibility for the economic damages lies with them and has offered an initial pledge of $20 billion dollars for that purpose.

“The families and businesspeople in the Gulf region want leadership, accountability and action from BP and the Administration. It is unacceptable that, 59 days after this crisis began, no solution is forthcoming. Simply put, the American people want all of our resources, time and focus to be directed toward stopping the spill and cleaning up the mess.”

Translation: It’s time for this distraction-on-a-silver-platter to end. In fact, according to the Daily Caller, so nervous was the GOP leadership about how Barton’s soundbite will play that they threatened to strip him of his committee membership if he didn’t walk back his earlier apology.

Think this’ll be enough to calm the media frenzy? Not likely: As Dave Weigel says, “It’s pretty darn obvious what Democrats are doing today — ripping into Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.) for his ‘apology’ to BP in a fashion that makes Oceania’s campaign against Emmanuel Goldstein look amateurish.” Quite so, and it was perfectly predictable, which is what makes Barton’s gaffe so excruciating. If you know the left is desperate to change the subject in the press, why make it easy for them? And why, oh why, frame your criticism of Obama and the escrow account as an apology to BP? He could have knocked the escrow fund independently before or after the hearing, at a press conference or in a written statement or an interview or various other ways. As it is, I can only assume that he was trying to pander to the right by proving himself such a true “true conservative” that he’s willing to take on Obama’s White House even if it means siding — on national television — with the perpetrators of the oil apocalypse in the gulf. Red meat for grassroots conservatives, poison for everyone else in America. Maybe there was something to that “epistemic closure” criticism after all.

The other pity of Barton’s sympathy act is that it obscures the fact that he has a legitimate complaint about the escrow account. Dan McLaughlin points me to this Journal op-ed which sums things up nicely:

[A] government-administered fund more or less guarantees a more politicized payment process. The escrow administrator will be chosen by the White House, and as such would be influenced by the Administration’s political goals. Those goals would include payments to those harmed by the Administration’s own six-month deep water drilling ban. That reckless policy will soon put thousands of Gulf Coast residents out of work, but the White House knows that BP isn’t liable under current law for those claims. The escrow account is an attempt to tap BP’s funds by other means to pay the costs of Mr. Obama’s own policy blunder.

That point should be made by the GOP — but not at a hearing devoted to BP’s malfeasance, as even Tony Hayward himself seems to understand. In fact, per the Daily Caller piece linked above, Barton’s now issued a written statement specifically apologizing for calling the escrow account a “shakedown.” Thus does a fair knock on the White House evaporate because it was delivered in a tin-eared fashion. Let’s hope the story ends here, please.

Update: Biden piles on and, right on cue, the fundraising push begins.

Update: The perfect story to be running alongside “Republican apologizes to BP” items.

In response to a U.S. senator’s questions in a letter, BP said it never follows a federal law requiring it to certify that a blowout preventer device would be able to block a well in case of an emergency. The inquiry stemmed from a hearing in May into the Gulf oil spill from the explosion and fire which sank the Deepwater Horizon rig.

But, at the same time, the British oil giant blamed the federal oversight agency, Minerals Management Service, for not asking it to comply with the law.