In the wake of disasters, national or otherwise, partisan politics often takes a back seat to regional politics. That appears to be exactly what's happening in the escalating feud of: Is Ted Cruz (and by proxy, most of the Texas Republican congressional delegation) a hypocrite for voting against aid for 2012 Hurricane Sandy now that they'll need billions of dollars to clean up from Hurricane Harvey?
Several prominent Republicans in New York and New Jersey say yes.
Tuesday into Wednesday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) was on pretty much every major cable news channel blasting Cruz for having to be in the unenviable position to lobby Congress for the very thing he voted against giving to residents of New York and New Jersey several years ago. (Congress spent two months debating Sandy aid.)
“Crap,” Christie said on MSNBC's “Morning Joe.”
“He's not telling the truth standing in a recovery center where people are suffering. And it's not right,” Christie went on.
“Senator Cruz was playing politics in 2012, trying to make himself look like the biggest conservative in the world,” Christie told CNN's Chris Cuomo on Wednesday. “What I said at the time both to him and to everyone else was if you represent a coastal state, don't do this, because your day is going to come and you're going to expect people to help you.”
Before the worst of Harvey's flooding had even been realized, Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.), who represents the Long Island area whacked hard by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, poked at Cruz for his 2013 vote against an aid bill for King's district.
Cruz responded by accusing Christie of playing politics himself. “I’m sorry that there are politicians who seem really desperate to get their names in the news and are saying whatever they need to do that,” Cruz told Fox News on Wednesday.
But, Cruz has also put himself in the position of making incorrect statements to justify why he voted against Sandy funding. It was full of unrelated spending, Cruz said in a Monday interview with NBC's Katy Tur.
“The problem with that particular bill is it became a $50 billion bill that was filled with unrelated pork. Two-thirds of that bill had nothing to do with Sandy,” he said.
Uh, no, said Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler, who walked through the bill line item by line item. “It is wildly incorrect to claim that the bill was 'filled with unrelated pork.' The bill was largely aimed at dealing with Sandy, along with relatively minor items to address other or future disasters.”
Cruz and his defiance are taking most of the heat right now, but he isn't the only Republican to vote against a hurricane aid bill. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), Senate Republicans' No. 2, also ultimately voted against it. So did most of Texas's House delegation. So did hundreds of House Republicans. Cornyn's spokesman argued it was because of “pork spending” such as money to fix fisheries on the West Coast.
(Fact-checker Kessler said that was money for other disaster declarations made in 2012, the same year Sandy hit the East Coast.)
What this back-and-forth underscores is an inconvenient fact of life and politics: It's much easier to hold your principles in theory than in reality.
For Cruz — and most of the Texas Republican delegation that voted against Hurricane Sandy aid — Sandy's wreckage some 1,700 miles away was theoretical enough to take a fiscally conservative ideological stand on. Cruz said on NBC he supports the federal government's role providing hurricane and disaster relief. But the votes by his branch of fiscally conservative Republicans suggest something. Congress shouldn't be in the practice of signing checks for $50 billion in taxpayer dollars, period.
This tug-and-pull for Republicans is as old as modern-day disasters. In the years after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, Republicans took heat from conservative media for blocking an aid package for first responders.
In the debate of Katrina relief, former congressman Mike Pence (R-Ind.) went to the House floor to declare: “Congress must ensure that a catastrophe of nature does not become a catastrophe of debt.”
Hurricane Harvey's catastrophic flooding is, unfortunately, very, very real for many of the same Republicans who were able to keep previous disasters at a safe distance. Cruz & Co. can't guarantee an aid package for South Texas won't have unrelated line items in it. But this time, they'll likely be the ones leading the charge to get it passed, no matter what.
And East Coast Republicans who were on the receiving end of Republicans' fiscal conservatism four years ago can't help put point out the irony.