News Column

Northeast Republicans Lash Out at GOP Over Sandy Relief

Jan. 3, 2013

Raymond Hernandez and Michael Grynbaum

The fury followed the decision by lawmakers to block a measure that sought to provide billions of dollars in aid to New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and other states pummeled by Hurricane Sandy.

This is the kind of moment that, in today's hyper-choreographed political age, does not often happen: An ambitious governor angrily denounces his own political party before a national audience, accusing its leader of "duplicity," "selfishness" and moral failure.

Chris Christie, the New Jersey Republican and possible 2016 presidential candidate with a reputation for take-no-prisoners bluster, was among a number of Republicans from the Northeast who erupted in fury on Wednesday after the U.S. House of Representatives, which is controlled by their party, blocked a measure that sought to provide billions of dollars in aid to New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and other states pummeled by Hurricane Sandy in late October.

Setting aside the usual caution that lawmakers, mindful of relationships and protocol, bring to public appearances, Mr. Christie made unequivocally clear whom he held responsible in remarks to reporters in New Jersey. "There's only one group to blame for the continued suffering of these innocent victims: the House majority and their speaker, John Boehner," he said.

He then reiterated that the decision to block the relief bill "was the speaker's decision, his alone."

One Northeastern Republican after another vented his outrage at Mr. Boehner, of Ohio, who had quietly moved to keep the bill from coming to the floor early Wednesday after a raucous marathon session on fiscal issues.

Representative Michael G. Grimm, a Republican whose district in the Staten Island borough of New York was among the hardest hit by the storm, threatened not to vote for Mr. Boehner in his bid to be re-elected House speaker; the election was scheduled for Thursday. Representative Peter T. King, a New York Republican whose constituents also suffered huge losses, urged New York's well- heeled donor community not to contribute to Mr. Boehner's Republican majority.

The anger that surfaced seemed to come as a bit of a shock to Mr. Boehner, who quickly sought to contain any political fallout. After meeting with Republican lawmakers from the storm-tossed region, he pledged to bring a $9 billion relief package to the floor on Friday and a $51 billion package on Jan. 15.

"Getting critical aid to the victims of Hurricane Sandy should be the first priority in the new Congress," Mr. Boehner said in a statement that he released with Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the Republican majority leader in the House. "That was reaffirmed today with members of the New York and New Jersey delegations."

But it was unclear whether Mr. Boehner could undo the damage he had done.

Mr. Christie said Mr. Boehner had refused to take his calls Tuesday night.

After finally getting through to him on Wednesday morning, Mr. Christie expressed doubt in the speaker's word in his characteristically blunt way.

"I'm not going to get into the specifics of what I discussed with John Boehner today," he told reporters in New Jersey. "But what I will tell you is there is no reason at the moment for me to believe anything they tell me. Because they have been telling me stuff for weeks, and they didn't deliver."

Mr. King later struck a more conciliatory note. "This procedure that is laid out is fully acceptable" he said, reacting to the schedule presented by Mr. Boehner. "Fact is, we are getting what New York and New Jersey needs, and that is what counts."

Mr. Grimm also seemed mollified, saying he would support the speaker after all.

As much as the outcry spoke of the extraordinary dissension within the Republican ranks, it also underscored another political reality: the relative lack of clout that Northeastern states like New York have in the House, a chamber dominated by conservatives from the South and Midwest.

In many respects, lawmakers from the region must frequently contend with the perception, whether fair or not, that the region they represent is a liberal bastion that is politically and culturally out of touch with the rest of the United States.

The region's political standing in the House is such that leading New York politicians turned to prominent New York City businessmen with close ties to the Republican Party in their efforts to persuade House leaders to pass a disaster relief package.

For Mr. Christie, there may have been some calculus behind the ire. The governor has earned fans around the country with his regular-guy toughness. Some voters, disillusioned with both parties, are looking for a candidate who can claim a mantle of independence.

Mr. Christie's warm embrace of President Barack Obama in the aftermath of the hurricane, days before the November election, left some of his Republican supporters astonished and hurt. Some surrogates of the Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, later blamed Mr. Christie for helping to turn the campaign's momentum against him. The governor has sought to mend those ties; it was unclear whether his words on Wednesday had strained them anew.

Source: (C) 2013 International Herald Tribune. via ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved

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