[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/06/21/art.getty.rush.limbaugh.jpg caption="Rush Limbaugh defended Rep. Joe Barton Monday."]
(CNN) – Conservative talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh is taking aim at Republican leaders for rushing to demand Texas Rep. Joe Barton retract his controversial apology to BP CEO Tony Hayward during last week's congressional hearing.
On his radio show Monday, Limbaugh suggested the GOP leadership likely agrees with Barton's sentiments, but are driven by recent national polls which suggest the majority of Americans support President Barack Obama's push for BP to set aside $20 billion for future liability claims.
"It was a shakedown pure and simple," said Limbaugh, echoing the words for which Barton later apologized. "And somebody had the audacity to call it what it was and now everybody's running for the hills."
"All you have to do is look at the polling," Limbaugh continued. "We're talking about Republicans inside the beltway. All you have to do is look at the polling data and media coverage and find out what they are going to do."
Barton, the ranking Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, quickly faced fire from both the right and the left after apologizing to Hayward during the BP chairman's appearance before his committee Thursday. Hours later – amid threats he would lose his leadership post – Barton retracted the comments.
"Let's just slither away under the rock here," Limbaugh said, mocking the Republicans' approach to Barton. "We'll let Joe Barton get eaten by the Democrat lizards on this to protect ourselves. This is politics and this is the reason why true believers have such a problem with politics. It's just that simple and no more complicated than that."
- CNN's Natalie Novak contributed this report