• Politics

Eight More Deep Thoughts from Rep. Joe Barton

4 minute read
Jay Newton-Small and Katy Steinmetz

In his 26 years in office, energy issues have defined Congressman Joe Barton’s career. They’ve also defined his gaffes, as was evident Thursday when the Fort-Worth area Republican alienated even the members of his own caucus by apologizing to BP CEO Tony Hayward for what he initially called a White House $20 billion “shakedown,” only to turn around later in the day and issue an apology for the impolitic apology. Here are eight of Barton’s other not-so-finest moments in the limelight.

1. Barton is a long-time denier of global warming. He’s called it “a triumph over good sense and science” and in 2007 hearings he told Al Gore , “You’re not just off a little. You’re totally wrong.” In railing against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s passage of global warming legislation last year, Barton said: “You can’t regulate God. Not even the Democratic majority in the U.S. Congress can regulate God.”

(See the top 10 political gaffes of 2009.)

2. That said, Barton has used the threat of global warming to combat something he hates even more: wind energy. In a 2009 hearing, Barton implied that wind is a “finite resource” and that harnessing it would “slow the winds down” which would “cause the temperature to go up.”

(See how climate change is hitting the oceans.)

3. Where does oil come from? Barton asks Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Chu that probing question during an April 2009 Energy Committee hearing in an exchange about the precious resource in Alaska. Chu’s answer about plate tectonics, dumbed down so a five-year-old could understand it, is completely lost on a smirking Barton, who later gloats on Twitter, “I seemed to have baffled the Energy Sec with basic question — Where does oil come from.” Actually, those watching were the most baffled.

4. During the 2005 energy bill negotiations, Barton earned the nickname “Smokey Joe” from environmental groups for championing MtBE, a gas additive made in his district which turned out to be a highly dangerous water pollutant. Barton wanted a liability shield for all MtBE producers — a move that his own fellow Republicans in the Senate rejected two years in a row. Barton finally caved, allowing the energy bill to pass.

See TIME’s special on the 2010 World Energy Technologies Summit.

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5. Know your base: Barton challenged John Boehner for minority leader in 2006 after Republicans lost the House, but withdrew a humiliating six days later when it became apparent that not only did Boehner have the votes sewn up, but that few of Barton colleagues liked him enough to pledge their support.

6. In discussing (what else?) energy legislation, Barton said in a press conference that Rep. Henry Waxman didn’t “have the nuts” to pass his energy bill in May 2009. He then followed with the admission — to much guffawing — “nor do I.” He explains, twice, how his metaphor is taken from Texas Hold ‘Em, where having “the nuts” means having the best hand. But everyone in the room, laughing like sixth-graders, clearly only heard nuts, nuts, nuts. Barton, in summation, ends with: “We’ll see which one of us has the other by the nuts next week.” Ultimately, Waxman did have the nuts: the House passed his climate bill on June 28, 2009.

(See 10 races that have Republicans worried for 2010.)

7. When talking about climate change on C-Span in March 2007, Barton attempts to discount climate-change studies by explaining that temperature is determined by cloud shape. But his discussion of the various shapes — “tall clouds or skinny clouds, short clouds, fat clouds, high clouds, low clouds” — comes off as more Sesame Street than science.

8. As a freshman representative in the mid-1980s, Barton took a hard Texan line against spies. In the wake of Navy officer John A. Walker, Jr. being accused of leading a spy network, he said all spies should be given the death penalty as “retribution” to fellow citizens. “Where I come from what we’d do about it would be take ’em out and string ’em up,” he told reporters, to some laughter. “We wouldn’t go through the legalities that we have to because of our due process.” Oddly this seems to be the opposite tact he took with BP on Thursday where, in lamenting the Administration’s “shakedown” of of BP, Barton said: “We have a due process system, where we go through hearings, in some cases court cases, litigation, and determine what those damages are and when those damages should be paid.”

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