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Hurricane Harvey: Heroes and Hypocrites

Natural disasters tend to bring out the best in Americans, and Hurricane Harvey is no exception. Along with heartbreaks, the daily news out of Texas brings us stories of heroism and generosity, from residents risking life and limb to rescue their neighbors to strangers traveling across the country to help those in need.

As Californians, we are no strangers to disaster. Just during my time in the House and Senate, I saw how the nation came to our aid after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, the 1994 Northridge quake, and the Cedar fire of 2003. We know firsthand what terrors nature can bring and how generous our fellow citizens can be.

Californians have been among the heroes of Hurricane Harvey. Units of the California National Guard were among the first to arrive on the scene to carry out water rescues. Regional disaster units, including San Diego County’s 21-agency Urban Search and Rescue California Task Force 8 and Orange County’s Task Force 5, have provided search & rescue, incident management, and first aid. Individuals and nongovernmental organizations have donated their time, money, and expertise to help our fellow Americans in their darkest hour.

Along with heroes, this disaster brought us a parade of hypocrites, led by the unspeakable Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. As has been widely reported, Cruz groveled before his old friend Donald Trump to get “everything the state needs” for disaster relief. When reporters asked Cruz how he could ask for maximum federal spending now after leading the opposition to relief from Hurricane Sandy in 2012, Cruz claimed that the Sandy relief bill had been “filled with unrelated pork.” But an exhaustive report on the Sandy bill by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service showed that virtually every cent in that legislation was spent on short-term and long-term disaster relief.

The sad fact is that Cruz was not alone in turning his back on Sandy’s victims. Both Texas senators and every Texas Republican House member voted against the Sandy bill. (So did some Californian Republicans, including Darrell Issa, Duncan Hunter, Ed Royce, and Dana Rohrabacher; fortunately, 49 Republicans bucked their party, and the bill passed 241-180.)

We should not punish the people of Texas for the selfishness and short-sightedness of their members of Congress. We should do all we can to help them by donating money, volunteering time, and supporting disaster relief legislation. But when the waters have receded, we can ask our friends in Texas and other red states how they feel about a political party whose guiding ethos is every person – and every state – for themselves.