by John Avlon
NEW YORK (CNN) — “It’s why the American people hate Congress. Unlike the people in Congress, we have actual responsibilities.”
Chris Christie dropped a bomb on Speaker John Boehner and Congress for refusing to allow a vote on Hurricane Sandy relief in the final hours of the 112th Congress. It was an instant classic of principled political outrage. It provided a strong dose of what Washington has been missing: blunt, independent leadership.
Christie prosecuted the case by pointing out that hurricane relief had been provided to victims of Katrina after 10 days and victims of Hurricane Andrew in Florida after 31 days. But residents of the New Jersey and New York coast have been waiting 66 days to date for some relief.
Christie also accurately pointed out that Northeast states such as New Jersey and New York send more to the federal government in taxes than they get back in federal aid, unlike many of the red states represented by conservatives in Congress. The “makers versus takers” narratives fall apart fast when confronted with reality.
Pulling no punches, Christie declared: “Last night, the House majority failed most basic test of leadership and they did so with callous disregard to the people of my state. … It was disappointing and disgusting to watch.” He also unapologetically named names: “There’s only one group to blame … the House majority, and their Speaker, John Boehner.” He added that the relief bill “just could not overcome the toxic internal politics of the House majority.”
But Christie also took the high road in terms of decrying the overall atmosphere of hyperpartisanship in D.C., arguing correctly that “Americans are tired of the palace intrigue and political partisanship of this Congress … this used to be something that was not political. Disaster relief was something that you didn’t play games with.”
Christie’s broadside drew widespread praise on the Web.
One tweet I saw from “Ronnie” in Chicago seemed typical: “His dedication to his State is inspiring. I’m a democrat but damn, Christie’s won me over. He has a damn heart.”
Christie’s fury was backed up by similar straight talk from New York Republican Congressman Peter King of Long Island.
He blasted House leadership on CNN Wednesday morning: “I would say the Republican Party has said it is the party of family values,” he said. “Last night it turned its back on the most essential value of all, and that is to provide food, shelter, clothing and relief for people who have been hit by a natural disaster. And I would say that the Republican Party has turned its back on those people.”
This display of independence was a reminder that there is a distinct brand of tough Northeastern Republicans — people such as Christie, King and Rudy Giuliani — who don’t simply tow the line with party leadership or ideological litmus tests. Largely as a result, they are able to connect with centrists and independent voters and win on Democratic turf. This is a lesson for national Republicans as they look to reach out beyond their base.
Christie and King’s principled independence and tough talk against their own party leadership brought results.
Within hours, Boehner and Republican House leadership announced that they would vote for an initial round of Sandy relief on Friday, followed by a vote on the remaining amount on January 15.
Conservative activist groups such as Americans for Prosperity, the Club for Growth and Heritage Action all pressured congressional Republicans to vote against Hurricane Sandy relief, and while they helped block a bill from coming to a vote on New Year’s Eve, the swift and unsubtle backlash brought a wise reassessment.
All this is a reminder that straight talk in politics is so rare that it stands out and carries more than its own weight in civic debates. It cuts through the spin and resonates beyond party lines because it is credible and rooted in reality.
Most importantly, it gets results. Boehner’s turnaround brought to mind a comment made by Christie during his press conference: “No one is beyond redemption.”
Editor’s note: John Avlon is a CNN contributor and senior political columnist for Newsweek and The Daily Beast. He is co-editor of the book “Deadline Artists: America’s Greatest Newspaper Columns.” He is a regular contributor to “Erin Burnett OutFront” and is a member of the OutFront Political Strike Team. For more political analysis, tune in to “Erin Burnett OutFront” at 7 ET weeknights.