Maria Cantwell, Grilling BP Exec, Shows How to Stick It to the Fat Cats

By:  Nina Shapiro
Source: Seattle Weekly News

Senator Maria Cantwell put on one of her best political performances to date yesterday as she grilled BP president and chair Lamar McCay in a Senate committee hearing about the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in a Senate committee hearing.

With her cool demeanor and sharp questions, noted by the Huffington Post among other media, the Senator demonstrated why she is becoming known as a smooth and classy populist, appealing to liberal instincts to take on the corporate fat cats. The persona is quite a change for Cantwell, a onetime RealNetworks executive who used to come off as a wonky technocrat.

With McCay in the hot seat, she told him he had "probably the best advice money can buy behind you," which was undoubtedly to say that he should take financial responsible for the spill caused by BP offshore drilling, as he did. But she threw specific question after specific question at him until he finally broke from his mantra that he would "pay all legitimate claims."

Cantwell: "So if it's a legitimate claim of harm to the fishing industry both short-term and long-term, you're going to pay?"

McCay: "We're going to pay all legitimate claims."

Cantwell: "If there's an impact for lost business from tourism, you're going to pay?"

McCay: "We're going to pay all legitimate claims."

Cantwell: "To state and local governments for lost tax revenue, you're going to pay?"

McCay: "Question mark."

Is such grilling political theater or will it actually make a difference as to what BP will pay for as the consequences of the oil spill become known over the next decade or two? McCay's answers seem, for the most part, to at least establish a historical record for later review. Cantwell said that she hoped that therefore there would not be a court battle over what constitutes a "legitimate claim." Knowing the fat cats, however, that seems like wishful thinking.