House adjourns as Boehner faces pressure to allow Sandy relief vote

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) came under intense pressure Wednesday from Republicans in New York and New Jersey to allow a vote on legislation providing relief to the states hit by Hurricane Sandy in October. 

Lawmakers from both parties blasted Boehner's decision not to take up an emergency relief bill in speeches on the House floor, with New York Republican Rep. Pete King (R) suggesting he might not support Boehner for Speaker in a Thursday vote.

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King also suggested in an interview on Fox that people in the Northeast should not donate to congressional Republicans because of the Sandy issue. 

The House adjourned shortly after 12:30 p.m. with no vote scheduled on the Sandy measure, suggesting it is unlikely to be considered by the lower chamber in this Congress. Newly elected House members will be sworn in Thursday afternoon.

Technically, there is some small chance the House could act on a Sandy bill Thursday just before the new Congress is sworn in, or possibly if the House were to return today. But that seemed highly unlikely as of midday on Wednesday.

The House returns at 11 a.m. Thursday, and the new Congress takes control at noon.

Before the adjournment, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) issued a joint statement saying it was "inexcusable" that the House wasn't voting on a bill. The Senate has already approved a bill providing the states hit by Sandy with $60.4 billion. 

At a press conference Wednesday afternoon, Christie skewered House Republicans, accusing them of placing political motivations ahead of disaster relief. 

"There is only one group to blame for the continued suffering of these innocent victims: the House majority and their Speaker, John Boehner," said Christie. 

Christie said he tried to reach out to Boehner after learning that the House would not hold a vote. "I called the Speaker four times last night and he did not take my calls," he added.

Just before noon, the White House weighed in with a statement from President Obama.

"When tragedy strikes, Americans come together to support those in need. I urge Republicans in the House of Representatives to do the same, bring this important request to a vote today, and pass it without delay for our fellow Americans," Obama said. 

He noted the Senate had already taken bipartisan action, but said the House had "refused to act."

Obama also spoke with Christie on Wednesday afternoon about the importance of the funding, according to a senior administration official.

"The president has spoken to Gov. Christie today about the Sandy supplemental request pending in the House of Representatives, and the importance of its passage," the official said. "The president’s team has been in close contact with Gov. Cuomo’s staff as well today."

In response to the pressure, Boehner will meet Wednesday afternoon with GOP lawmakers from the affected states, a GOP aide said. 

Lawmakers from the region slammed Boehner for actions they said could scuttle the bill and cost the party votes in the Northeast.

"It is the most disgraceful action that I've seen in this House in the 20 years I've been here," Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said.

King and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) on Wednesday said Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) had given conflicting signals on the issue.

"We should not be waiting, Mr. Speaker," Hoyer said on the House floor. "We should be voting this very morning, which ... I expected to happen from my discussions with the majority leader."

King agreed with Hoyer that Boehner pulled the bill for reasons that still aren't known. In contrast, he said Cantor appeared to be working to keep the bill on the schedule.

"Last night I know that he was fighting to get the bill on the calendar," King said of Cantor. "It was the Speaker, for whatever reason, who walked off the floor and said that the bill was being pulled."

King was joined by other Republicans who also criticized the decision.

"There was an error in judgment that is going to cost, I think, the trust of the American people, not for me individually, not necessarily even for the members here today, but for this body as a whole," Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) said.

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) in a letter to Boehner called for immediate action on the bill in this Congress.

"While all of us understand the need to be fiscally responsible in this era of record federal deficits, our country has always come together as one to provide assistance to communities who suffer from a major natural disaster," she wrote. West Virginia has hammered by a winter storm that collided with Hurricane Sandy to form what some forecasters called a "superstorm."

King also blasted Boehner for not telling members directly that the bill was being pulled and said Boehner instead told a Cantor aide, who then told members. King went on, saying Boehner's attitude is typical of many members' attitudes toward people in the Northeast Corridor.

"I consider myself a personal friend of John Boehner, and John Boehner personally has been very helpful to me over the years," King said.

"So it pains me to say this, but the fact is the dismissive attitude that was shown last night toward New York, New Jersey and Connecticut typifies, I believe, a strain in the Republican Party. I know this is not the place to discuss politics, but that politics seeps over into a governmental decision that was made.

"I can't imagine that type of indifference, that type of disregard, that cavalier attitude being shown to any other part of the country."

Republicans had prepared a bill, the Disaster Recovery Reform Act, which would have spent less than half of the Senate's $60 billion on Sandy relief. But it never came up, and Hoyer said Boehner was telling members Tuesday night that there would be no more votes until the next Congress starts later this week.

In their weekly colloquy, Cantor had said repeatedly to Hoyer that Republicans were working through a Sandy relief bill. However, Cantor did indicate that Republicans were wary of the cost of the Senate bill and wanted to make sure the bill dealt only with Sandy relief, and not other issues.

Cantor also said a few times that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had enough funds in the short term to deal with Sandy, a sign that Republicans did not see an urgent need for a bill this week that many others saw.

On Wednesday morning, Hoyer dismissed that argument.

"To those who say FEMA has not yet disbursed all the funds it has to assist families and businesses, I would tell them, they deeply underestimate the damage in these areas and the wide range of assistance required to alleviate the pain and suffering," he said.

Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) said governors from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut should consider suing Congress for failing to provide disaster aid.

"I would suggest to governors that they should bring us to court," he said. "Not only did we pass the money for Katrina in a very short period of time, part of it was by voice vote."

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Boehner's decision fails a basic civility test that Congress should be able to meet.

"The real civility that people expect is how this Congress treats them, and treats their needs, and never is that tested more clearly than in time of natural disaster," she said.

"And then, are we to say to them, now Congress is going to pull the rug out from under you, in terms of your hopes and expectations of meeting their needs?" she asked. "Don't tell me that. We can't tell our constituents that. That would not rise to the level of civility."

Hoyer joined several Republicans and Democrats late Tuesday night to blast Boehner's decision not to hold a Sandy vote until the 113th Congress commences. Some of these members said Boehner should be ashamed of himself for failing to take up a bill.

"I don't think I've ever been as angry as I am tonight," Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) said. "For us in the Northeast to be treated this way is absolutely unconscionable. Tonight I am ashamed. Shame on you, Mr. Speaker."

—This story was posted at 10:34 a.m. and last updated at 2:22 p.m.