WASHINGTON – In Houston, householders were just coming to grips with the fact that those whose homes weren’t destroyed by Hurricane Harvey were covered with mold and filth. In South Florida, tens of thousands transformed the interstates into slow-moving parking lots, with drivers praying they could find enough fuel to escape Hurricane Irma – but to where? In Savannah, Ga., evacuation orders were being issued.
With a pair of the worst storms in history menacing the Southeast and the Gulf Coast, the White House scheduled a leadership meeting with Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
With millions fearing, or in grief, for their homes, and some for their lives, Congress and the White House had to agree soon to pass laws raising the national debt ceiling to avoid a government shutdown and appropriate $15.3 billion for hurricane relief.
It is in moments like these that Congress and the White House show their worth, good and bad, as in the aftermath of the attack on the Twin Towers, and then in the snide critiques of the Hurricane Sandy relief bill by, who else, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.
Incredibly, in this instance, ultra conservatives such as Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., were demanding a wholesale review of the government’s spending and tax priorities before they would pass any legislation providing relief for those stricken in the Gulf States and Florida and avoid a shutdown. The Paul clique was backed by hysterical demands by hate radio pooh-bahs such as Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin. Levin complained the emergency spending bill would bust the budget. Limbaugh actually trivialized the threat of Irma.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which provided massive relief to Texas, was running out of money.
Schumer agreed to provide enough Democratic votes to pass the omnibus legislation. The deal at the White House left most Republicans in shock. But Republican majority leaders, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, reluctantly went along.
In the Senate, 17 Republicans voted against the relief bill. The nay votes included two who campaigned against Trump for the GOP nomination last year, Paul and Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina. Two never-Trumpers, Arizona Republicans John McCain and Jeff Flake, also voted no.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., did not vote at all, an action that is sure to cost him dearly in the future.
As Schumer and Pelosi met with Trump, conservatives in the House assembled to kill the settlement. The opponents call themselves the Republican Study Committee, a collection of 150 right-wingers.
Even as Ryan said he would back the spending and relief legislation, the committee’s leader, Mark Walker, R-N.C., sent Ryan a bleak warning, saying the settlement was “irresponsible” and ignored the urgent need for budgetary “reforms.” Passing these reforms would take months, probably years.
Walker told Politico.com that about 100 of his group’s members would vote against the settlement. However, the House on Friday voted 316 to 90 to send the package to Trump for his signature.
Does Trump’s reaching out to Schumer and Pelosi signal a new bipartisanship? Yes, and no. Schumer told Buffalo News political reporter Robert J. McCarthy he hadn’t seen Trump since January.
Schumer strongly backs the probes into possible collusion between Russia and Trump’s presidential campaign. Yet, the Republican majorities of Congress proved to be of no help in replacing Obamacare.
The answer is that Trump will call on Schumer and Pelosi when he needs them, which was always the case.