Furious GOP lawmakers unloaded on fellow Republican House Speaker John Boehner yesterday for spiking a bill to provide $60 billion in Hurricane Sandy relief – prompting a stunning about-face that puts the disaster aid back on a fast track.
Boehner had told lawmakers late Tuesday night that the bill wouldn’t get a vote before the end of this Congress’ term – without offering a specific reason – triggering outrage within the New York and New Jersey delegations.
Lawmakers in both parties immediately concluded that Boehner, who is up for re-election as speaker today, was protecting his own political hide – after he coaxed reluctant Republicans to swallow a deal to avert the fiscal cliff, despite its not addressing GOP calls for billions in spending cuts.
They took to the House floor yesterday to rip Boehner by name in an unusually brutal and unified display.
Rep. Pete King (R-LI) delivered a blistering attack on Boehner and other GOP leaders for pulling the aid package, and urged the region’s political donors to shut off the cash flow to Republican congressmen.
“I’m saying right now, anyone from New York or New Jersey who contributes one penny to congressional Republicans is out of their minds, because what they did last night was put a knife in the back of New Yorkers and New Jerseyans,” King said. “It was an absolute disgrace.”
And in an extraordinary press conference in Trenton, Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie laid all the blame on Boehner.
“Last night, politics was placed before our oath to serve our citizens,” he said. “For me, it was disappointing and disgusting to watch.
“Shame on Congress,” he added. “On a political chessboard of internal palace-intrigue politics, our people were played last night as a pawn. It is why the American people hate Congress.”
Rep. Michael Grimm (R-SI) called the decision – which contradicted assurances from GOP leaders – a “betrayal,” and even said for a time he would abstain from voting for Boehner to remain as speaker during Republican caucus elections today.
But when furious Republican lawmakers marched into a meeting in Boehner’s Capitol office, the speaker immediately caved, promising to bring up $9 billion for crucial flood insurance on Friday, and the remaining $51 billion in disaster aid on Jan. 15.
King said Boehner started out the meeting by making “an obscene reference” to him while giving a smile.
“If he weren’t smiling, it would not be a term of endearment,” King told reporters.
After shaking hands with the lawmakers, Boehner explained that he thought it would have been “counterproductive” to call up the Sandy-relief bill given the climate over the contentious fiscal-cliff vote.
King said Christie used “far more obscene” language during an angry 1 a.m. phone call with him yesterday.
The bill coming up in the House strips out some of the pork outside the region that was added in the Senate, such as $150 million for Alaska fisheries.
In fact, plenty of other non-Sandy items have drawn fire, including $15 million for NASA, $20 million for a nationwide water-resources study, and $125 million for an unrelated agriculture program to restore watersheds damaged by wildfires and droughts.
Even as people who lost their homes continue to suffer along coastal areas of New York and New Jersey, the Sandy-aid fight was filled with political undercurrents.
Lawmakers of both parties praised House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) – a Boehner rival – for working hard to try to salvage the bill, even as they ripped Boehner.
But after Boehner agreed to fast-track the disaster aid, King and Grimm both said they would back Boehner’s re-election as speaker, and King also withdrew his statement about holding back cash from Republicans.
“What’s done is done,” King said after Boehner relented in the meeting, with Cantor sitting by his side.
Democrats and Republicans subjected Boehner to a relentless and coordinated pile-on as the day went on yesterday.
Gov. Cuomo, considering a presidential run in 2016, issued a joint statement with Christie, while the White House issued a statement saying President Obama spoke by phone with both Christie and Cuomo from Hawaii, where the Obamas are vacationing.
“The failure to come to the aid of Americans following a severe and devastating natural disaster is unprecedented,” Cuomo and Christie declared in their joint statement.
In a press conference, Cuomo called the failure to take up the package a “dereliction of duty.”
Parting ways with other New York officials, Mayor Bloomberg, who spoke to Boehner yesterday, refused to attack the speaker, saying, “It’s not for me to second-guess how you run a legislative body.”
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