Skip to main content

GOP civil war over Sandy disaster relief

By Errol Louis, CNN Contributor
January 3, 2013 -- Updated 1646 GMT (0046 HKT)
Errol Louis says House Speaker John Boehner is caught between pragmatic and radical factions in his party.
Errol Louis says House Speaker John Boehner is caught between pragmatic and radical factions in his party.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Errol Louis: The conflict over Sandy relief reflects deep division in Republican Party
  • He says the House majority is split between pragmatic pols and radical budget cutters
  • John Boehner is caught in the middle, trying to keep a lid on the battle, Louis says
  • Louis: Complaints, threats by Christie, King show they fear the aid request will be chopped

Editor's note: Errol Louis is the host of "Inside City Hall," a nightly political show on NY1, a New York City all-news channel.

New York (CNN) -- The battle over relief funding for areas devastated by Superstorm Sandy should leave no doubt about whether there is a war within the Republican Party over the fundamentals of taxation and spending.

On one side are old-school pols who are committed to reducing government deficits but willing to engage in traditional horse-trading with their big-spending liberal colleagues -- and to support items such as relief for disasters, which can strike any region of the country at any time.

On the other side are dyed-in-the-wool budget radicals, who believe government spending must be curtailed, deeply and immediately. They are perfectly comfortable slicing, delaying or crippling normally sacrosanct programs, including disaster relief.

Errol Louis
Errol Louis

The two sides are engaged in an old-fashioned power struggle, with Speaker of the House John Boehner as the man in the middle, trying to keep a lid on the battle. The factional fighting delayed and nearly destroyed the fiscal cliff negotiations, with Boehner unable to persuade most of his Republican members to vote for a compromise bill that kept taxes from increasing for nearly all Americans.

Politics: Furor over dropped vote defuses

Trying to get a vote on hurricane relief the same night proved to be a bridge too far. Boehner, struggling to keep his divided caucus in line -- and facing a critical vote to renew his speakership -- decided to kill the aid bill.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



It might have kept the budget hawks happy for a moment, but Republicans in New York and New Jersey were furious. And the mood turned ugly.

Rarely do public accusations of political betrayal sound as personal -- at times, nearly shrill -- as the howls that came from New York and New Jersey Republicans over Boehner's last-minute refusal to allow a promised vote on $60 billion worth of relief for areas hard hit by Sandy.

"The speaker just decided to pull the vote. He gave no explanation," said Rep. Michael Grimm, a tea party member who is the sole remaining Republican member of Congress from New York City. "I feel I was misled from the very beginning," he said in a radio interview.

David McCue stands near the roof of his beach house, which was completely demolished by Superstorm Sandy, in Ortley Beach, New Jersey, on Sunday, November 25. See photos of the immediate aftermath of Sandy. David McCue stands near the roof of his beach house, which was completely demolished by Superstorm Sandy, in Ortley Beach, New Jersey, on Sunday, November 25. See photos of the immediate aftermath of Sandy.
Long, slow recovery from Superstorm Sandy
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
>
>>
Photos: Long, slow recovery from Superstorm Sandy Photos: Long, slow recovery from Superstorm Sandy
Meeks: Put aside politics for Sandy aid
Hoyer on Sandy inaction: 'It's a tragedy'
Republican fallout over Sandy aid
Christie: Boehner wouldn't take my calls

Rep. Peter King, a senior New York Republican, was even blunter. "This has been a betrayal of trust," he said. "We were told at every stage that [a vote] was definitely going on. It is inexcusable. It is wrong."

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a rising star in the Republican Party, held a news conference to attack Boehner. "It was disgusting to watch," he said. "One set of Republicans was trying to prove something to another set."

Christie put his finger on the dynamic that is likely to drive Republican politics for the next few years. A fair number of GOP members of Congress no doubt supported Boehner's move.

Rep. Darrell Issa of California, who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, took to the airwaves to denounce the $60 billion bill, specifically blaming Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.

Avlon: Christie drops bomb on GOP leaders

"They had the opportunity to have a $27 [billion] to $30 billion dollar legit relief package, packed it with pork, then dared us not to vote on it," said Issa. "The speaker has the support of the majority of Republicans that if we're going to provide relief, we can't allow it to be doubled with unrelated pork no matter where the relief is."

Translation: Republican budget hawks plan to give the areas devastated by Sandy half -- or less -- of what New York and New Jersey requested. And even powerful, nationally popular Republicans like Christie may not be able to budge them.

One sign of where the power lies -- for the moment, at least -- is the threats made by Grimm and King.

"We were betrayed. We were let down. There have to be consequences," said Grimm, who at first suggested he might not vote for Boehner to continue as speaker.

King suggested that New York's wealthy donors close their wallets to Republican leaders. "Anyone from New York or New Jersey who contributes one penny to congressional Republicans is out of their minds," he said.

Such statements betray the sort of pure frustration often voiced by men who lack the power to make good on their threats. King later pronounced himself satisfied after meeting with Boehner.

The speaker said the House will vote Friday on part of the Sandy relief package, and that the rest of the legislation will be taken up by the next Congress in about two weeks -- long enough for the different sides to catch their breath before resuming the civil war in the Republican Party.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Errol Louis.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1259 GMT (2059 HKT)
You could be forgiven for thinking no one cares -- or even should care, right now -- about climate change, writes CNN's John Sutter. But you'd be mistaken.
September 21, 2014 -- Updated 2132 GMT (0532 HKT)
David Gergen says the White House's war against ISIS is getting off to a rough start and needs to be set right
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1300 GMT (2100 HKT)
John Sutter boarded a leaky oyster boat in Connecticut with a captain who can't swim as he set off to get world leaders to act on climate change
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1917 GMT (0317 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says making rude use of the Mexican flag on Mexican independence day in a concert in Mexico was extremely tasteless, but not an international incident.
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1359 GMT (2159 HKT)
Michael Dunn is going to stand trial again after a jury was unable to reach a verdict; Mark O'Mara hopes for a fair trial.
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 2315 GMT (0715 HKT)
Is ballet dying? CNN spoke with Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, about the future of the art form.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 2147 GMT (0547 HKT)
Sally Kohn says it's time we take climate change as seriously as we do warfare in the Middle East
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1927 GMT (0327 HKT)
Laurence Steinberg says the high obesity rate among young children is worrisome for a host of reasons
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says an Oklahoma state representative's hateful remarks were rightfully condemned by religious leaders..
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1922 GMT (0322 HKT)
No matter how much planning has gone into U.S. military plans to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Arab public isn't convinced that anything will change, says Geneive Abdo
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1544 GMT (2344 HKT)
President Obama's strategy for destroying ISIS seems to depend on a volley of air strikes. That won't be enough, says Haider Mullick.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Paul Begala says Hillary Clinton has plenty of good reasons not to jump into the 2016 race now
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1501 GMT (2301 HKT)
Scotland decided to trust its 16-year-olds to vote in the biggest question in its history. Americans, in contrast, don't even trust theirs to help pick the county sheriff. Who's right?
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 0157 GMT (0957 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1547 GMT (2347 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says the foiled Australian plot shows ISIS is working diligently to taunt the U.S. and its allies.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1958 GMT (0358 HKT)
Young U.S. voters by and large just do not see the midterm elections offering legitimate choices because, in their eyes, Congress has proven to be largely ineffectual, and worse uncaring, argues John Della Volpe
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1427 GMT (2227 HKT)
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1448 GMT (2248 HKT)
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 2315 GMT (0715 HKT)
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 0034 GMT (0834 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1305 GMT (2105 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 1723 GMT (0123 HKT)
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
ADVERTISEMENT