3 Jan 2013

Chris Christie fury sparks Republican U-turn over Sandy aid

“Shame on you”: the New Jersey governor Chris Christie has launched a stinging attack on his own party leaders for scrapping a vote on relief aid for victims of superstorm Sandy.

It didn’t take long. Barely minutes after a blunt and highly outspoken press conference by New Jersey governor Chris Christie, slamming the GOP leadership for abandoning a vote on disaster aid relief for victims of superstorm Sandy – a complete about turn.

House speaker John Boehner, who had refused to take the issue to the floor of the House, suddenly cleared the way for the $60bn aid package to be approved by the middle of January.

The House of Representatives will now vote on an initial downpayment of $9bn worth of aid this Friday, leaving the rest to be approved in a second vote in 12 days time.

Earlier a furious Chris Christie didn’t mince his words. “There is only one group to blame for the continued suffering of these innocent (storm) victims – the House majority, and their speaker, John Boehner”, he told a hastily arranged press conference in Trenton.

The vote was due to be held on the very last day of Congress. But after the acrimonious vote over the compromise deal brokered by the White House to avoid the fiscal cliff, many within the fractious Republican party were clearly having no truck with any kind of increased state spending, emergency relief or not.

Sixty six days and counting. Shame on you. Shame on Congress. Governor Chris Christie

Mr Christie declared that the country had always pulled together to help victims of natural disasters, but not now. “Last night, politics was placed before oaths to serve out citizens”, he said. “For me, it was disappointing and disgusting to watch”.

He described the failure to take a vote as “callous indifference”, more than two months after the storm wreaked such havoc. “Sixty six days and counting – shame on you. Shame on Congress.”

Mr Christie said Boehner had refused to call him back to explain why he had decided not to schedule a vote, despite repeated attempts to get in touch. Politicians on both sides were astonished that the measuer wasn’t being put to the floor – and those from the affected areas were outraged.

The speaker reportedly told colleagues it was “not a good time” to vote on a large package of public spending, after giving way on a fiscal cliff deal which included such a small level of spending cuts.

Republican backlash

It triggered a huge backlash within Republican ranks. Peter King, a senior GOP congressman from New York, urged people to stop donating money to the party. “I’m saying right now, anyone from New York or New Jersey who contributes one penny to congressional Republicans is out of their minds.”

Mr Christie had already been in trouble with party stalwarts over his high praise for President Obama’s handling of the Sandy disaster, days before the presidential election.

But his public approval is growing, and even dropped veiled hints that he could turn this into a bid for the Republican nomination in 2016. “We’ll see”, he said. “Primaries are an ugly thing.”

After the announcement that the aid bill would go to a vote after all, Peter King described Boehner’s U-turn as “fully acceptable and fully satisfactory”.

But for the Republicans, after the infighting over their general election loss, and pushing the country to the very edge of the fiscal cliff, this has not been an edifying spectacle. Their reputation is in danger of plumetting even lower still.

Felicity Spector writes about US politics for Channel 4 News