Harvey's rains were still drenching Texas over the weekend, and people were still being pulled from flooded cars and homes. But already, politics was seeping into the official conversation.
First to speak was U.S. Rep. Peter King, a Republican from Long Island in New York, which took a blow from a storm named Sandy five years ago. On Twitter, King promised to vote for disaster aid for the areas decimated by the catastrophic flooding. But he also made sure to get in a dig at Texas U.S. Sen. and fellow Republican Ted Cruz.
"Ted Cruz & Texas cohorts voted vs NY/NJ aid after Sandy but I'll vote 4 Harvey aid. NY wont abandon Texas. 1 bad turn doesnt deserve another," he wrote in the first of several pointed tweets.
MOSS BLUFF (AP) — Bands of heavy rain from Harvey lashed southwest Louisiana on Monday, ratc…
The squabbling was unseemly under the circumstances, but you can't say it wasn't timely.
Even before Harvey strengthened and struck, Congress was already gearing up to tackle the debt ceiling, to try to adopt a spending plan and avert a government shutdown, to pursue President Donald Trump's tax reform drive and, if we're to believe U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, to once again try to kill the Affordable Care Act. And now disaster relief is expected to move to the top of the to-do list.
And as the lingering King/Cruz tension suggests, passing these relief packages isn't as easy as you'd think, or hope. It certainly wasn't after Sandy struck the northeast in 2012, and after some Republicans balked at supporting a broad relief bill that was larded up with just the sort of extras that are often added to lure enough votes for full passage. In the interests of ideological purity, they risked charges of hypocrisy that clearly still linger today — and that can come back to bite lawmakers when their own constituents are the ones in need.
This isn't the first time the Sandy aftermath has served as a cautionary tale. The issue also came up after Baton Rouge flooded last year in the midst of a U.S. Senate primary that featured two Republican members of Congress from Louisiana. Former U.S. Rep. John Fleming had voted against the package, but former U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany supported it, and chalked the vote up to his own experience having fought for aid to Louisiana years earlier. As he pointed out at the time, all the Republicans in Louisiana's delegation who'd been in Congress during Katrina and Rita voted yes, and all the members who'd arrived since voted no.
"Having fought those fights with hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav, Ike, I knew what those fights were like. My colleagues were not there during that time, and I went to them before and said if you vote against this … you're basically signaling hypocrisy," Boustany said. "Because it's not a matter of if we're going to have another event, it's only a matter of when."
If newer members of Louisiana's delegation learned that lesson last year, others from Texas are learning it now, with the unsolicited help of their colleagues from elsewhere.
King isn't the only one who's spoken up. Another Republican Congressman, Frank LoBiondo of New Jersey, offered this up on Twitter: "Despite my TX colleagues refusal to support aid in #SouthJersey time of need, I will support emergency disaster $$ for those impacted." And Cruz isn't the only one being put on the defensive. So is John Cornyn, his fellow senator, and U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, who faced questions this week about his "no" vote in television interviews.
Nor is flood relief the only looming legislation that's likely to feel the impact of the horrific storm. Also on Congress's agenda next month is reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program.
Here too there's been some progress is cross-state coordination based on common experience. But there's also been resistance, particularly from the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, a federal flood insurance skeptic named Jeb Hensarling, who just happens to hail from Texas. It will be interesting to see if he bends during his state's hour of need.
King's initial outburst may have been tacky under the circumstances, but he's not wrong in suggesting that any region could one day find itself in need, and any member of Congress could be the one seeking aid to recover.
In this era of extreme weather, there's really no time for us-versus-them anymore.