Washington (CNN) - Energy Secretary Steven Chu insisted to lawmakers Thursday that the Obama administration wants gas prices lower.
But at a hearing of a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee, he didn't get much of a chance to explain, as Republican members continued to confront him with statements he and his boss, President Barack Obama, made prior to the 2008 election.
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Chu was interviewed in September 2008 by the Wall Street Journal, which quoted from that interview the following December after Chu was named as a prospective energy secretary.
"Somehow we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe," the Journal reported Chu as saying. At the time, Chu was Director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California.
Rep. John Scalise of Louisiana read that quote to Chu and asked him, "Did you say that?"
Chu responded by trying to talk about administration policy, but Scalise interrupted immediately, "You said it or you didn't, it's been attributed, it's not the first time you've heard this, because many people have asked if it's been attributed to you, and many people have asked you about it, and I've heard you confirm that you said it."
Chu eventually responded, "I said something similar."
Scalise went on to ask what the prices of gasoline are in Europe and Chu responded by trying to talk about everything he has done since taking office.
Scalise then gave a figure above $8 per gallon, but Chu still did not answer the question directly.
The price of gasoline in Europe is more than twice what Americans pay at the pump.
As several other Republicans did earlier in the hearing, Scalise referred to another quote in which Obama, a senator at the time, suggested that he would prefer a gradual increase in gas prices to around $4 per gallon. Conservatives have used these two quotes in recent weeks to suggest that the administration has an unspoken policy to raise gasoline prices.
Rep. John Shimkus of Illinois, who also went after Chu over the two quotes, attacked Obama for his response to that charge in his Tuesday conference this week.
"This administration from Day One said, 'We want high gas prices.' Guess what, they're going to get them. The president was asked (about the charge).'Oh I don't want high gas prices now because I'm up for re-election.' You know what was the unsaid part of that statement? 'But I don't mind if they go up after the election.'"
All these quotes, whether rendered accurately or not, have gone viral on the Internet in conservative blogs and forums.