TRENTON, N.J. (CBS/AP) — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is fuming over the House’s decision to not hold a vote on Tuesday on the Superstorm Sandy relief package.
Christie was just one of several New Jersey and New York elected officials, from both sides of the aisle, who lambasted Boehner’s decision to not hold a vote; demanding he reverse course and allow a vote as their constituents continue to struggle with the aftermath of the devastating storm. President Barack Obama also called for an immediate House vote.
Speaking at a news conference Wednesday afternoon, the Republican governor said the only group to blame for decision is the House’s GOP majority and Speaker John Boehner.
Just hours after he put off a vote, Boehner was scheduled to meet privately with Republican lawmakers from the two states. 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.
Christie said he tried calling Speaker John Boehner four times Tuesday night, but said Boehner didn’t take his call.
Christie says the storm aid measure is not something you “play politics with” when people are suffering.
“Our people were played last night as a pawn and that’s why people hate Washington, D.C.,” said Christie.
Christie termed it “absolutely disgraceful” and complained about the “toxic internal politics” of the House majority.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. also raised the political temperature. 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.”
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 written 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 Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s team, too, as Obama lobbied for House action.
Christie and Cuomo, a Democrat, issued a joint statement earlier in the day before Christie addressed the media, saying, “The fact that days continue to go by while people suffer, families are out of their homes, and men and women remain jobless and struggling during these harsh winter months is a dereliction of duty.”
A spokesman for Boehner, Michael Steel on Wednesday 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.”
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.
The Senate approved a $60.4 billion measure Friday to help with recovery from the 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 ends Thursday at noon. An amendment for $33 billion in additional aid, partly to protect against future storms, was also being considered but was seen as having less chance of passage.
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. Peter King, R-N.Y., called it a “cruel knife in the back” to New and New Jersey. 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.
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.”
The House is currently adjourned, set to return on Thursday at 11 a.m. for an hour before the new Congress begins its term at noon.
Boehner’s spokesman says he’s committed to getting it passed this month.
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.
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