Skip to main content

GOP civil war over Sandy disaster relief

By Errol Louis, CNN Contributor
updated 11:46 AM EST, Thu January 3, 2013
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
updated 4:47 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery support the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
updated 2:17 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
updated 1:52 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
updated 1:10 PM EDT, Sat April 19, 2014
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
updated 6:26 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
updated 8:50 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Steve Israel is right: Some Republicans encourage anti-Latino prejudice. But that kind of bias is not limited to the GOP.
updated 7:23 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Peggy Drexler counts the ways Phyllis Schlafly's argument that lower pay for women helps them nab a husband is ridiculous.
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT