“It’s all political,” the governor said. “You know, this country’s run on politics. But when a disaster comes that is not what you expect, you expect a human reaction, not a political reaction. And I will tell you, there’s a void, a total void of human response. And it’s extremely discouraging as an American citizen. It makes me angry and extremely disappointed.”
That wasn’t Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) waxing exasperated with Washington inaction in the face of his state’s suffering. That was then-Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D) of Louisiana having her say during an interview with me in her Baton Rouge office in 2007. This was two and a half years after Hurricane Katrina ripped across the Gulf Coast and created the storm surge that drowned New Orleans thanks to flawed engineering by the Army Corps of Engineers.
I was reminded of that interview while listening to Christie go to town on House Republicans and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) for not bringing a Sandy aid bill to a vote before the end of the 112th Congress. He expressed similar frustrations as Blanco in dealing with a Washington.
Natural disasters happen in red states and blue states and states with Democratic governors and Republican governors. We respond to innocent victims of natural disasters, not as Republicans or Democrats, but as Americans. Or at least we did until last night. Last night, politics was placed before oaths to serve our citizens. For me, it was disappointing and disgusting to watch.
Blanco was infinitely more diplomatic, but that didn’t make her 2007 assessment of Congress any less bracing.
I absolutely hated the idea of having to go to Washington, D.C., to deal with the last Congress, because their attitude was brutal. The old Congress made us feel like we were pretty stupid for standing in the way of the hurricane and that we were asking for far too much assistance. They ignored the fact that it wasn’t the hurricane, per se, that caused our damage. It was the failure, an engineering failure, of the federal levees that caused our enormous grief. If we had not had levee failures, people would have walked home, and today we would not even be sitting here talking about it.
The politics swirling around the federal government’s response to Katrina was glaring. Blanco was a Democratic governor of a red state with Republicans in the White House and controlling the House and Senate when Katrina hit in August 2005. And then there was race. Many African Americans believed then and still believe now that Washington’s listlessness was race-based because the majority of faces of fellow Americans in New Orleans pleading for help from an unresponsive Washington were black.
Meanwhile, the politics swirling around the aftermath of Sandy are equally rich. Christie is a Republican governor of a blue state with a Democrat in the White House, Democrats controlling the Senate and Republicans holding the House. Unlike Blanco’s frosty rapport with President George W. Bush, Christie has a great relationship with President Obama. Yet, while Blanco breathed a sigh of relief after sympathetic Democrats took control of the House and Senate in 2006, Christie slammed “the House majority and their speaker, John Boehner.” A House majority that came to Washington two years earlier to cut spending no matter what.
To make his case against Boehner and the House, Christie dropped an interesting nugget. Despite the indelible images of horror and heartache that came to define the aftermath of Katrina, it took Congress 10 days to send aid to the Gulf Coast. “Sixty-six days and counting,” Christie said yesterday. “Shame on you, shame on Congress.” Today marks day 67.
Late Wednesday, Boehner announced there would be a vote Friday for $9 billion in disaster funding. The remaining $51 billion of the proposed $60 billion legislation would take place on Jan. 15. For now, Boehner has made a headache go away. But it’s fleeting relief. There will be another natural disaster. Another state will be in dire need of federal assistance. And Congress for reasons of politics and frayed purse strings can be expected to drag its feet in response.