You Disgust Me, Christie Tells Boehner in Storm Over Aid
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie blasted fellow Republican John Boehner and the GOP-controlled House on Wednesday, saying he was disgusted that Congress failed to approve emergency aid for victims of Superstorm Sandy.
The Senate approved a $60.4 billion measure last week to help with recovery from the October storm that devastated parts of New York, New Jersey and nearby states. The House Appropriations Committee has drafted a smaller, $27 billion measure, and a vote had been expected before Congress'term ended.
President Barack Obama called for an immediate House vote, but the GOP-controlled chamber adjourned for the day, set to return on Thursday at 11 a.m. for an hour before the new Congress begins at noon.
Rep. Peter King of New York, who also sharply criticized fellow Republicans, said House Speaker Boehner has given assurances of a vote on $9 billion in Sandy aid on Friday and on $51 billion in relief on Jan. 15.
At a news conference before that announcement, Christie said it was "disappointing and disgusting" to watch Congress on Tuesday night. "There's only one group to blame for the continued suffering of these innocent victims -- the House majority and their speaker, John Boehner."
Christie said he called Boehner four times on Wednesday night to urge action, but the call wasn't picked up.
"National disasters happen in red states and blue states." Christie said. "We respond to innocent victims of natural disasters, not as Republicans or Democrats but as Americans – or at least we did until last night."
Earlier, he and Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York issued a joint statement lashing out at the lawmakers for ending their session without voting on the storm aid. "This continued inaction and indifference ... is inexcusable," the governors said.
A spokesman for Boehner, Michael Steel would not say whether Boehner would reconsider his decision on Sandy aid, responding with the same statement he issued on Tuesday night: "The speaker is committed to getting this bill passed this month."
The speaker was caught between conservative lawmakers who want to offset any increase in spending and Northeast and mid-Atlantic lawmakers determined to help their states recover more than two months after the storm hit.
The criticism of Boehner on the House floor was personal at times, and reflected in part the frustration among rank-and-file over the decision to press ahead with a vote on the fiscal cliff deal engineered by the White House and Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell. Boehner had been struggling with conservatives who complained that the economic package didn't include enough spending cuts. (Read More: US Avoids Calamity in 'Fiscal Cliff' Drama)
Christie termed the lack of action "absolutely disgraceful" and complained about the "toxic internal politics" of the House majority.
"There is no reason for me at the moment to believe anything they tell me," Christie said.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. raised the political temperature even more. She said Boehner should come to Staten Island and the Rockaways to explain his decision to families whose homes and businesses were destroyed, and added: "But I doubt he has the dignity nor the guts to do it."
King called it a "cruel knife in the back" to the region. He said some Republicans have a double standard when it comes to providing aid to New York and New Jersey compared with other regions of the country suffering disasters. Somehow, he said, money going to New York and New Jersey is seen as "corrupt."
King urged donors from the two states not to give money to Republicans who are ignoring their needs on Sandy. King said Congress approved $60 billion for Hurricane Katrina in 2005 within 10 days, but hasn't appropriated any money for Sandy in over two months.
After receiving the assurances from Boehner on Wednesday afternoon, King said he was now satisfied that the aid will be forthcoming.
(Related story: House GOP Threw Us Off 'Hurricane Cliff': NY Dem)
The move to pull the Sandy bill by Boehner even came as a surprise to the No. 2 Republican in the House, a Republican official said.
A House Republican leadership aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the aide was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was ready to have the House vote on the bill and was surprised when the speaker made the decision late Tuesday to let it die for this session of Congress, which ends Thursday.
Obama, meanwhile, called for House Republicans to vote on the Sandy aid "without delay for our fellow Americans." The president said in a statement that many people in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut are trying to recover from the storm and need "immediate support with the bulk of winter still in front of us."
The White House said Obama spoke Wednesday with Christie about the importance of the disaster aid bill, and that the president's staff was in touch with Cuomo's team, too, as Obama lobbied for House action.
Reps. Michael Grimm, a Republican, and Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat, said in angry House floor remarks that while they did not agree on much, Boehner's decision amounted to a crushing blow to states battered by the late October storm.
"There was a betrayal," said Grimm.
Grimm and Nadler were among several New York and New Jersey lawmakers who took to the House floor to complain about Boehner's move. The lawmakers said Boehner pulled the bill without talking to them.
"It's the most disgraceful action I've seen in this House," said Nadler. "It is a betrayal by the speaker personally of the members of this House," Nadler said.
Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., blamed tea party lawmakers and conservatives who were reluctant to approve new spending soon after the debate over the "fiscal cliff" budget issues for the sudden move by GOP leaders. He said the move was "deplorable."
King said Tuesday night he was told by Cantor's office that Boehner had decided to abandon a vote this session. Cantor, who sets the House schedule, did not immediately comment.
House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland told reporters that just before Tuesday evening's vote on "fiscal cliff" legislation, Cantor told him that he was "99.9 percent confident that this bill would be on the floor, and that's what he wanted."
More than $2 billion in federal funds has been spent so far on relief efforts for 11 states and the District of Columbia struck by the storm, one of the worst ever to hit the Northeast. The Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster relief fund still has about $4.3 billion, enough to pay for recovery efforts into early spring, according to officials. The unspent FEMA money can only be used for emergency services, said Pallone.
New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, District of Columbia, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, New Hampshire, Delaware, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts are receiving federal FEMA aid.
Sandy was blamed for at least 120 deaths and battered coastline areas from North Carolina to Maine. New York, New Jersey and Connecticut were the hardest hit states and suffered high winds, flooding and storm surges. The storm damaged or destroyed more than 72,000 homes and businesses in New Jersey. In New York, 305,000 housing units were damaged or destroyed and more than 265,000 businesses were affected.