The Edge: The Politics of Disaster Aid

National Journal Staff
National Journal

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The Politics of Disaster Aid

As much of the Eastern Seaboard was working to recover from Hurricane Sandy last year, Oklahoma GOP Sens. Tom Coburn and Jim Inhofe voted against a $60 billion aid package for states hardest hit by the disaster. Coburn said the legislation contained "wasteful spending." Inhofe called it a "slush fund."

So now that a devastating tornado has flattened an Oklahoma town, we can expect both Sooner senators to oppose aid to their home state, right? Well, not exactly.

To his credit, Coburn has made clear that he will oppose additional funding that is not offset by cuts to other areas of the budget. It's a tough, but principled, stand. The kind that Dr. No is known for.

Inhofe, on the other hand, is already hedging, saying that the Oklahoma tornado is a "totally different" situation than the pork laden Sandy relief bill. And it may well be a different situation, if an Oklahoma aid package is needed.

But whatever distinctions Inhofe tries to make between Sandy and Oklahoma are sure to be lost on the public, who will likely see it as yet another political flip flop.

—Chris Frates


IRS OFFICIAL INVOKES FIFTH AMENDMENT AT HEARING. The Internal Revenue Service Director of Exempt Organizations Lois Lerner, under fire over the agency's targeting of conservative groups for special scrutiny, invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination during an appearance today before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. "I have done nothing wrong," Lerner read from a statement. "I have not broken any laws. I have not violated any IRS rules or regulations and I have not provided false information to this or any other committee." Lerner continued. Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., excused Lerner, though he reserved the right to recall her, and mentioned the possibility that Lerner might testify if granted immunity. Read more

  • National Journal's Matt Vasilogambros rounds up 10 other times the Fifth has been invoked, including Mark McGwire and Oliver North.

FRIEND OF BOSTON BOMBING SUSPECT KILLED BY FBI AGENT DURING QUESTIONING. Florida resident Ibragim Todashev, an associate of deceased Boston bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was shot and killed during an interview with an FBI agent and two members of the Massachusetts State Police about his possible connection to a Sept. 11, 2011, triple homicide, The New York Times reports. According to an official familiar with the investigation, "The investigators were working on the theory that he and Tamerlan had done the murder." Law enforcement officials toldThe Wall Street Journal that preliminary accounts indicate that Todashev "lunged" at the FBI agent with a knife, leading to the shooting. An official said that the FBI had previously questioned Todashev weeks ago regarding his connection to Tsarnaev. Read more

REPORT: WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL NIXED PLANS TO RELEASE BENGHAZI TIMELINE. Members of the White House national security team, including deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes, sought to release a "comprehensive timeline" of the Benghazi attacks, but were stymied by the office of White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler, BuzzFeed reports. "It was aggravating," said an unnamed administration official. "It comes back to Kathryn Ruemmler, Kathyrn Ruemmler, Kathryn Ruemmler. I hate to say it, as it sounds like piling on, but it's on her doorstep too." The White House characterized the claims as "off base," but declined to comment "on leaks out of purported internal deliberations." Read more

  • Then-CIA Director David Petraeus played a leading role in crafting the initial Benghazi talking points through his commission of a white paper for the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, The Washington Post reports. Read more

BERNANKE WARNS OF DAMAGE TO ECONOMY ABSENT STIMULUS. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke told a congressional panel today that high unemployment and government spending cuts continue to be a drag on the country and that hiking interest rates or easing bond-buying could harm the recovery, Bloomberg reports. "A premature tightening of monetary policy could lead interest rates to rise temporarily but would also carry a substantial risk of slowing or ending the economic recovery and causing inflation to fall further," Bernanke said. Read more

  • The Wall Street Journal explains key elements of the minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee, released today by the Federal Reserve. Read more

TRANSPORTATION NOMINEE FACES COMMITTEE IN HEARING. The Senate Commerce Committee holds a confirmation hearing and vote today for Charlotte, N.C., Mayor Anthony Foxx, President Obama's nominee to serve as Transportation secretary. Foxx used his opening statement to highlight his understanding of the importance of transportation. "I truly believe that whether it is a bus, a road, a train, a plane, or a ship, our transportation system at its best connects our people to jobs and a better quality of life," he said. Foxx is expected to face a smooth confirmation process. Committee chair Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said that Foxx "is so good. I can't see any opposition," and Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said "I'm inclined to believe he can do this job." Read more

WEINER OFFICIALLY ENTERS NYC MAYORAL RACE. Former Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., announced his long-rumored candidacy for mayor of New York City via an online video released late Tuesday, "apparently prematurely," and an e-mailed announcement this morning, The New York Times reports. "Look, I made some big mistakes, and I know I let a lot of people down," Weiner says in the video. "But I've also learned some tough lessons." Weiner, who has $5 million on hand, could upend the Democratic primary, currently led by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. "I don't care who enters the race," Quinn said Wednesday. "Why should I talk about anyone but myself?" Read more

  • National Journal's Elahe Izadi points to the five most unconventional proposals from Weiner, including bringing the British Parliament's entertaining "Question Time" to NYC.

DAMAGE FROM OKLAHOMA TORNADO COULD EXCEED $2B. The deadly tornado that tore through the Oklahoma City suburbs on Monday caused damage that could exceed $2 billion, the Associated Press reports. The monetary-damage estimate is based on visual assessments of the affected area, as well as the duration of the tornado, according to Oklahoma Insurance Department spokeswoman Calley Herth. The 2011 tornado that struck Joplin, Mo., which caused $2 billion in damages, affected a smaller area, Herth said. The National Weather Service rated the tornado an EF5, with wind speeds in excess of 200 mph. Local authorities said that there were no further reports of missing persons, and the medical examiner's office had identified 23 of the 24 dead, though family notifications are still pending for eight of them. Read more

  • President Obama will be traveling to Oklahoma on Sunday to view the storm damage, the White House announced today.

INDIE-ROCKER-TURNED-CONGRESSMAN READY TO MAKE NAME ON IMMIGRATION. A former indie-rock front man, city council member, and the author of the bookDealing Death and Drugs: The Big Business of Dope in the U.S. and Mexico, Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-Texas, is still something of an unknown in Congress. But in a Q&A with National Journal's Ben Terris, he talks about representing the border town of El Paso and how he plans to use his experience in shaping immigration legislation in the House. Read more


COMMERCE NOMINEE PRITZKER TO HAVE HEARING. President Obama's pick for Commerce Secretary, Penny Pritzker, will get a hearing Thursday before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. Pritzker's finances and background as a fundraiser for Obama are sure to get a full airing in the hearing.

COMPOUNDED-DRUG REGULATIONS HEARING. Legislation to regulate the manufacturers of compounded drugs—like the Massachusetts company at the heart of the deadly fungal meningitis outbreak last year—is moving along in both houses of Congress. House Energy and Commerce's Health Subcommittee will hold a hearing Thursday on the matter.

DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION MARKUP CONTINUES. Two panels—Tactical Air and Land Forces, and Readiness—will take a crack at the annual Defense Authorization budget on Thursday.


"Right now, brother, I'm looking for a Latina wife. Then I will speak perfectly." —Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker speaking in Spanish with a reporter about speaking Spanish (WPIX-TV)


SHORTAGES LEADING SOME HOSPITALS TO RATION. There are currently a record 300 shortages across the country of vitamins, drugs, and trace elements, leading to malnourishment for thousands of patients—including those in Washington. Alexandra Robbins, reporting for The Washingtonian, writes thatthe shortages are "leading to complications usually seen only in the developing world, if ever." D.C.-area health staff are tying a lack of calcium to an increase in the number of neonatal intensive-care-unit babies with decreased growth, fractured or broken bones, and a lack of calcium in their bones. The shortages are being caused by manufacturers and the pharmaceutical industry not producing drugs due to profitability concerns and government inaction. Hospital officials complained that despite alerting higher-up officials at their hospital, only a larger, national outcry would prompt a change in the system. Read more


OBAMA'S FACE AND … RACE. The White House scandals have been a problem for President Obama, but late-night comedians have been eating it all up, including Jay Leno, who continues to hammer Obama on Benghazi. Michelle Obama's recent comments about the president gave the opportunity for nearly identical jokes from Leno and TBS's Conan O'Brien. O'Brien also cited a recent survey of people from different racial backgrounds and their reaction to Obama's facial expressions. Late Night's Jimmy Fallon talked about Obama being in the dark about the scandals and later worked HBO's popular Game of Thrones series into his jokes about the president. Watch it here


WAIT ABOUT TWO MONTHS, THEN CHECK OBAMA'S APPROVAL. President Obama's approval rating in several recently released polls suggests that the three controversies his administration is navigating have not begun to hurt him. But National Journal's Michael Catalini looks at the how scandals have impacted the presidencies of Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and Richard Nixon and finds that it takes a little time for public opinion to turn on a president. Read more


Why she is in the news: President Obama has nominated her to serve as Commerce secretary. Her Senate hearing is Thursday.
Current job:
Founder, chair, and CEO of PSP Capital Partners and Pritzker Realty Group; cofounder and chair of Artemis Real Estate Partners (
Education: B.A. in economics, Harvard University; J.D. and MBA, Stanford University

Career highlights

  • Previously appointed to President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness (White House)
  • National Finance Chair for Obama's 2008 run
  • Was considered for Commerce post before, but withdrew her name from consideration (New York Times)

Of interest

  • Member of the family that founded Hyatt Hotels. Serves on the board of Hyatt Hotels (Hyatt)
  • Nomination is opposed by Unite Here, a union representing hospitality workers, including those of Hyatt Hotels, over allegations of worker-safety violations (Wall Street Journal)
  • Estimated personal wealth: $1.85 billion; Member of Forbes 400 (Forbes)

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the number of times people had invoked the Fifth Amendment in appearances before Congress. In fact, many more than 10 have invoked the constitutional right against self-incrimination.

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