GOP steps on its own ‘shakedown’ talking point

GOP STEPS ON ITS OWN ‘SHAKEDOWN’ TALKING POINT…. It’s hard to see how Wednesday’s meeting at the White House could have gone much better. President Obama met with BP executives, told them how it was going to be, and BP quickly agreed. The result: a $20 billion pot of money that will bring much-needed help to workers, businesses, and families who’ve been victimized by a devastating oil spill.

The Republican response was quick: the relief fund is outrageous. The matter, the GOP said, should have been resolved in the courts. Obama pressuring BP on Americans’ behalf was evidence of a “shakedown” and “extortion,” which might have even been “illegal.” How dare the president step up to secure needed funding for struggling families and small businesses in the region. The nerve. Hell, one key Republican official even apologized to BP for Obama strong-arming the oil giant into setting the money aside.

Yesterday, though, the Republican message seemed to shift a bit, at least in some corners. What was initially deemed an outrageous presidential abuse turned into a GOP idea that Obama shouldn’t take credit for.

Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), for example, issued a statement yesterday implicitly arguing that there couldn’t have been a shakedown, since BP intended to put $20 billion into the escrow fund before the White House meeting. “The true outrage,” Franks said, “is that this was never the President’s idea at all.”

It wasn’t just Franks.

On Thursday, Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao told me that he pressed BP on the fund idea a month ago, inspired by the example of Exxon after its 1989 spill off the coast of Alaska. And on Friday I talked with Ray McKinney, another engineer, who is running for Congress in Georgia against Rep. John Barrow (D-Ga.). McKinney stressed that there was no serious disagreement about the escrow issue, and said Democrats were concocting a political debate when all that mattered was making BP pay and investigating the disaster.

First, there was considerable disagreement about the escrow issue, since the entire Republican establishment quickly rose up to trash the agreement, loudly and publicly.

Second, this new message completely invalidates the first. Simultaneously, we have Republicans saying Obama extorted the money out of BP and that BP agreed to the payment before Obama walked into the room. The president’s efforts were scandalous, some Republicans are arguing, but the effort was a GOP idea.

Can’t anybody here play this game? Just pick a message and go with it.