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Barton keeps job as top Republican on committee after apologizing to GOP members

WASHINGTON (AP) — Rep. Joe Barton will retain his position as the top Republican lawmaker on the House Energy and Commerce Committee after expressing remorse to his fellow GOP lawmakers for his apology to BP chief executive Tony Hayward.

House Minority Leader John Boehner said Barton apologized to his colleagues at a closed-door meeting Wednesday for "in his words, his poor choice of words."

A House Republican aide confirmed that Barton, a Texan in his 13th term, would not lose his position over his remarks to Hayward.

"He retracted the statement last week and apologized," Boehner said. "I think that the issue is closed."

During a congressional hearing last week where Hayward testified, Barton apologized to the BP executive for the White House getting the oil company to commit to a $20 billion Gulf Coast relief fund. Barton called it a "shakedown."

Barton later apologized for the apology to BP. Still, GOP leaders had threatened to launch a process to strip Barton of his seniority on the powerful panel, a particularly painful threat to any long-term lawmaker.

The comment had embarrassed Republicans and provided ammunition to Democrats claiming that Republicans were taking a pro-industry stance in the Gulf oil spill.

The Democratic National Committee on Monday started running an ad on national and Washington cable television stations that includes a clip of Barton apologizing to BP.

Boehner said Democrats want to use Barton's remarks as a distraction in order to push an energy bill.

"The real issue here is not what Mr. Barton said," Boehner told reporters. "It is let's get the oil leak stopped. Let's get the mess cleaned up. Find out what happened, and make sure it never happens again."

As he left the closed-door meeting, Barton told reporters he made a statement to the Republican conference and "everybody took it in the spirit that I made it."

Barton would not say what he told Republicans at the meeting, but said they applauded his comments. "That's between me and the conference," he said.

"I'm the ranking Republican on the committee," Barton said. "I serve at the pleasure of the full conference."

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Associated Press writer Jim Abrams contributed to this report.

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