Emanuel Paints Republicans with Barton Brush

White House chief of staff tackles oil, Israel and the economy on "This Week."

ByABC News
June 6, 2010, 11:48 AM

June 20, 2010— -- White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel had some harsh words for BP CEO Tony Hayward, who spent his Saturday at a yacht race in the pristine waters off the British coast.

In an exclusive interview, his first Sunday morning interview since last year, Emanuel told "This Week" anchor Jake Tapper, "to quote Tony Hayward, he's got his life back."

Saying the BP chief's nautical excursion was "clearly a PR mistake," Emanuel added, "I think we can all conclude that Tony Hayward is not going to have a second career in PR consulting. This has been just part of a long line of PR gaffes and mistakes. "

Emanuel said the focus should be on the oil spill response, now in its third month with no clear end in sight.

"What's important is: Are we capping the well? Are we capturing oil? Are we containing the cleanup? Are we filing the claims? Are we cleaning up the mess?" Emanuel said. "That's what's important."

Emanuel defended the White House against criticism that bureaucratic red tape has hampered the federal response.

With 6,000 ships and 25,000 workers dealing with containment, capture and clean-up in the Gulf region, Emanuel said it's the "largest response ever organized by the United States government." He acknowledged that "there are going to be problems, there are going to be bottlenecks." But he said the federal effort has been flexible and responsive to problems.

The administration, Emanuel said, has forced BP to drill a second relief well, to ramp-up oil capture efforts from 25,000 to 50,000 barrels a day by the end of June and to create a $20 billion escrow account to pay damage claims made to victims of the disaster.

Critics of the escrow account gave something of a political gift to Democrats this week, via a statement by Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, the ranking Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

At a congressional hearing where most officials seemed highly critical of BP, Barton offered an apology to BP's CEO Tony Hayward for what he called the government's "shakedown" of the oil giant in establishing the fund at a hearing Thursday.

After being roundly criticized by Democrats and his own party's leadership, Barton withdrew his apology, but the political damage had been done.

Emanuel used Barton's apology to paint Republicans as sympathetic to BP.

"That's not a political gaffe, those are prepared remarks," Emanuel said. "That is a philosophy. That is an approach to what they see. They see the aggrieved party here as BP, not the fishermen."

Emanuel lumped Barton together with Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul of Kentucky, who recently called President Obama's criticism of BP "un-American."

"They think that the government's the problem," Emanuel said. "And I think what Joe Barton did was remind the American people, in case they forgot, how Republicans would govern."

The president, Emanuel said, will lay out his competing governing philosophy in speeches over the next several weeks focusing on energy policy, Wall Street reform and economic recovery.

Tapper also asked Emanuel about the administration's Afghanistan policy, Israel and the November mid-term elections.