'He's under huge pressure': Schumer on Boehner's hurricane-relief paralysis
Naturally, Chuck Schumer arrived at the press conference with a tabloid-ready coinage to describe what the House did to the northeast states affected by Hurricane Sandy last night.
"This failure to get relief now could be called the 'Boehner Betrayal,'" Schumer told a crowd of reporters and more than a dozen cameras at his Midtown office this morning.
Schumer said that House Speaker John Boehner "pulled out the rug from under us at the last minute," when he decided to adjourn the House after a contentious vote on the fiscal cliff deal without taking up the $60.4-billion request for Hurricane Sandy aid.
Members from New York and New Jersey had been told by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor earlier in the day that they would get an up-or-down vote on a bifurcated aid package, with one bill containing $27 billion in aid, and another with an extra $33 billion, and local Republicans were busy scrambling for support in the hopes of passing both bills.
Boehner's move left them sputtering and, in one case, threatening to leave the Republican Party.
Schumer said today that he had spoken to Cantor ten minutes before the press conference and that he remained supportive, pinning the responsibility on Boehner instead.
"We got caught in a crossfire of Beltway leadership squabbles," Schumer said.
It's not clear why Cantor is so supportive of the aid bill, beyond the fact that he probably regards its passage as an inevitability. But he's widely regarded as a threat to Boehner's leadership, and he could pick up some regional allies by backing the bill. (Cantor also opposed the fiscal-cliff bill, essentially saddling Boehner with the blame for that bill's passage and the hurricane bill's failure.)
Rep. Peter King, a longtime Boehner supporter, has already threatened not to vote for Boehner as speaker this week as a show of his outrage over the Sandy decision.
"Speaker Boehner is a good man in general," said Schumer, taking an outwardly more conciliatory tone than his colleague Kirsten Gillibrand, who said she thinks Boehner has neither the "dignity nor the guts" to explain his decision in person to families in the Rockaways.
"He's under huge pressure," Schumer added, "but he shouldn't have allowed all the pressure to be taken out on New York homeowners, New York small business owners, New York taxpayers. We pray that Speaker Boehner will be convinced."
(It is a regular tactic of Schumer's to suggest that he sympathizes with Republican leaders with hard-to-control constituencies, as a means of highlighting the extreme elements within those consituencies.)
Instead of Boehner, Schumer attacked Republican Reps. Darrell Issa and Hal Rogers for saying the bill was loaded with pork, saying it was an "outrage."
Local lawmakers had hoped the bill might be considered today, so that any changes could be sent back to the Senate before the new Congress convenes later this month, but Schumer said Cantor told him that's "an impossibility" now, after members were told they were free to leave last night.
He said it was "too risky" to take a vote without ten or so supportive members who had already left town, and that a special session before the scheduled start on January 21 was "possible, but hard to do."
"The good news is we laid out the track," Schumer said.
He also defended the White House's relative silence on the Sandy aid bill. President Obama conducted several aggressive press conferences to pressure Republicans on the fiscal cliff, but, at the time of Schumer's press conference, had yet to issue so much as a statement on Boehner's decision to adjourn.
"The president has been excellent here," said Schumer. "I have no doubt the president will do what's needed," he added. "We need more help on the Republican side, not the Democratic side."
Shortly after he concluded, the White House emailed a statement from the president calling for the House to vote on the bill today. But the president had already left town too, and was, at the time, working out at a gym in Hawaii, per pool reports.