J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Republicans and Democrats from New York and New Jersey lashed out at House Speaker John Boehner on Wednesday for pulling legislation on Hurricane Sandy aid, demanding that he reverse course and allow a vote as their constituents continue to struggle with the aftermath of the devastating storm. President Barack Obama called for an immediate House vote, and governors of the two states called House inaction a "dereliction of duty."
The House on Wednesday adjourned for the day, set to return on Thursday at 11 a.m. for an hour before the new Congress begins at noon.
Just hours after he put off a vote, Boehner was scheduled to meet privately Wednesday with Republican lawmakers from the two states. The speaker was caught between conservative lawmakers who want to offset any increase in spending and Northeast and Mid-Atlantic lawmakers determined to help their states recover more than two months after the storm hit.
The criticism of Boehner on the House floor was personal at times, and reflected in part the frustration among rank-and-file over the decision to press ahead with a vote on the fiscal cliff deal engineered by the White House and Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell. Boehner had been struggling with conservatives who complained that the economic package didn't include enough spending cuts.
On Wednesday, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. raised the political temperature even more. She said Boehner should come to Staten Island and the Rockaways to explain his decision to families whose homes and businesses were destroyed, and added: "But I doubt he has the dignity nor the guts to do it."
The move to pull the Sandy bill by Boehner even came as a surprise to the No. 2 Republican in the House, a Republican official said.
A House Republican leadership aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the aide was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was ready to have the House vote on the bill and was surprised when the speaker made the decision late Tuesday to let it die for this session of Congress, which ends Thursday.
Obama, meanwhile, called for House Republicans to vote Wednesday on the Sandy aid "without delay for our fellow Americans." The president said in a written statement that many people in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut are trying to recover from the storm and need "immediate support with the bulk of winter still in front of us."
The White House said Obama spoke on Wednesday with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie about the importance of the disaster aid bill, and that the president's staff was in touch with Gov. Andrew Cuomo's team, too, as Obama lobbied for House action.
Christie, a Republican, and Cuomo, a Democrat, issued a joint statement, saying, "The fact that days continue to go by while people suffer, families are out of their homes, and men and women remain jobless and struggling during these harsh winter months is a dereliction of duty."
A spokesman for Boehner, Michael Steel, would not say Wednesday whether Boehner would reconsider his decision on Sandy aid, responding with the same statement he issued on Tuesday night: "The speaker is committed to getting this bill passed this month."
Reps. Michael Grimm, a Republican, and Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat, said in angry House floor remarks that while they did not agree on much, Boehner's decision amounted to a crushing blow to states battered by the late October storm.
"There was a betrayal," said Grimm.
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