WASHINGTON — Rep. Joe Barton, R-Arlington, has emerged as an unlikely player in the midterm congressional elections, drawing fire from President Barack Obama at a number of fundraising events as well as from White House officials as Democrats struggle to retain control of Congress.
The Democrats' plight was evident in a furious internal fight over White House spokesman Robert Gibbs' recent remark that the Republicans could take back the House in November.
Barton became a media sensation last month with his apology to BP -- retracted under GOP pressure -- and seizing upon the public backlash to his remarks is now part of the Democratic Party's strategy to brand Republicans as insensitive toward ordinary people.
"So I've got the House Republican chairman of the energy committee, who has jurisdiction over the oil companies -- he, in a hearing, says to them, 'I apologize that the president strong-armed you, Chicago-style,'" Obama said last week at a fundraiser in Kansas City, Mo.
Obama then mocked Barton for referring to the White House meeting that yielded a BP pledge of a $20 billion recovery fund as "a tragedy."
"Really? I mean, when I heard that I was -- I said, 'No, he didn't say that,'" the president said, drawing laughter. "But he did. Because they don't think in terms of representing ordinary folks."
Obama named Barton, House GOP leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., the "B's." Democrats are targeting all three in television ads and on a website as "BP Republicans" who would be the face of the GOP if it regained power.
Ironically, Barton, the ranking Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, is unlikely to keep that position if the Republicans take over the House because he is limited to three two-year terms.
Barton became chairman in 2004 when he served out the remaining six months in Rep. Billy Tauzin's term after the Louisiana Republican resigned, but that did not count against the term limit.
When the GOP lost the majority in the 2006 elections, Barton became the top Republican on the panel, with control of Republicans' committee staff and budget.
But Republicans reaffirmed this year that his time served while the party was in the minority would count toward the term limit, leaving Barton to hope for a waiver from the House Republican Steering Committee, effectively controlled by Boehner, the minority leader.
Boehner may not be Barton's greatest fan. He was the prime mover in dressing Barton down and demanding that he renounce the BP apology, which Boehner felt damaged all Republicans.
Previously, there was Barton's brief challenge to Boehner in 2006 to become Republican leader. Although Barton dropped out of the race the day before House GOP members voted, one Republican member said that it was the kind of act that Boehner might consider disloyal and might never forget.
"Both members demand fierce loyalty, have long memories and are very vindictive," said the member, who spoke on condition of anonymity for those very reasons.
In addition, two likely successors to Barton on the committee -- Reps. Fred Upton of Michigan and John Shimkus of Illinois -- are already positioning themselves. A Texan is actually next in line, Democrat-turned-Republican Rep. Ralph Hall, the oldest member in the House. But GOP members say he is considered more likely to lead the House Science Committee, where he is the ranking member.
Asked about Barton seeking a waiver, Lisa Miller, Barton's spokeswoman on the energy committee, said, "The congressman will cross that bridge when he comes to it, but right now he's just working hard to make sure that Democrats have a chance to fill the ranking-members' seats next year with their very best survivors."
Barton may help his chances by coming through with major campaign contributions to help House Republicans. Democrats are looking at making the Arlington Republican a factor with Democratic donors.
Barton is being challenged by Democrat David Cozad, but analysts consider the incumbent relatively safe.
Read more: http://www.star-telegram.com/2010/07/18/2343431/dems-look-at-barton-as-aid-to.html#ixzz0u9KVS25j