By Bob Cusack and Molly K. Hooper - 01/05/13 11:00 AM EST
House Republican lawmakers are wincing at the renewed focus on the relationship between Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.).
Republican members said there was a striking lack of communication between the Speaker and the majority leader on the Sandy relief bill. Cantor worked closely with lawmakers from the Northeast on the issue, and the bill was scheduled to hit the floor late Tuesday night.
A Republican lawmaker said Cantor first learned that the bill had been pulled from the New York/New Jersey delegations. They were informed of the news from Boehner’s staff, the legislator said.
Another Republican member said, “Boehner wouldn’t speak to Cantor that night.”
Boehner wasn’t talking to many people Tuesday night after he moved through the “fiscal cliff” deal brokered by the Senate. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg called the Speaker, but couldn’t reach him.
Staffers for Boehner and Cantor, who work well together, were in contact late Tuesday night amid the Sandy flap.
A leadership staffer said the suggestion that Boehner and Cantor were not talking is “100 percent inaccurate.” The aide said the two leaders were talking “throughout the day.”
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Some House Republicans believe the decision to yank the Sandy bill had at least something to do with Cantor expressing opposition to the Senate-passed fiscal-cliff bill at a GOP conference meeting on Tuesday. One Republican said the meeting was supposed to be a “listening session” for leadership. When Cantor criticized the legislation to members and the press, it became a major storyline in the fiscal-cliff narrative.
Cantor’s comments “played well with the base,” the GOP member said. Boehner later voted for the bill, while Cantor rejected it.
A Republican leadership aide said, “The timing of the Sandy vote had nothing to do with the majority leader’s position on the cliff bill.”
Members close to leadership told The Hill that it was unclear if Boehner ever gave the green light to Cantor to hold the vote so close after the fiscal-cliff bill. Yet, sources say Boehner never expressed opposition to the measure until he pulled it from the floor.
One of the House majority leader’s main responsibilities is setting the floor schedule, something Boehner’s office has reminded reporters in the past.
GOP lawmakers said it is not surprising that there was a breakdown of communication on Sandy, noting that Congress had been intently focusing on the cliff bill for the last month.
One high-ranking GOP lawmaker who requested anonymity said, “You know what this place was like the other night, I don’t know if the [GOP Conference] could bear [a vote on Sandy]. So here’s the question: Can you imagine [if] the bill goes up and it doesn’t pass?”
But such a scenario was unlikely because Democrats backed the bill and Cantor’s support suggests a fair amount of Republicans would have voted for it.
Still, members believe that Boehner’s misstep on Sandy hurt his image more than his handling of the fiscal cliff.
“[Sandy] is a bigger screw up than anything else on Boehner’s part,” a lawmaker close to the Speaker said.
Christie’s public rebuke of Boehner has Republican House members cringing for a variety of reasons. They point out that Christie has resurrected what Cantor has called the media’s “soap opera” interest in the relationship between Boehner and the Virginia Republican. News coverage of their relationship had dissipated over the last few months.
A veteran lawmaker sighed and shook his head when asked to respond to the return of the Boehner/Cantor drama.
“Shhh. Not helpful,” the Republican said.
One member of leadership quipped, “Republicans love it when Christie [rips] Democrats. We just don't like it when he does that to us.”
Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said, “The Speaker and the majority leader worked together closely and effectively throughout the 112th Congress, and that will continue in the 113th.”
Cantor spokesman Doug Heye said, “House leadership remains unified. The challenges America faces are too important for us to be anything but unified.”
A year ago, Republican members were so frustrated with the tension between Boehner and Cantor that they urged them to put their differences aside.
At the time, Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) told the leaders that he didn’t want to “read stories that suggest three of the leaders are on one side and the Speaker’s on the other.”