WASHINGTON -- It was just Wednesday morning that lawmakers were lining up on the House floor to slam House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) for delaying a vote on a relief package for Hurricane Sandy victims until the next Congress, with some Republicans even vowing to vote against Boehner for House speaker over the matter.
But by Wednesday afternoon, many of those same lawmakers were all smiles after leaving a meeting with Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who promised them votes as soon as Friday on a relief package.
The House is now planning to hold two votes to get a Sandy relief package out the door: the first one, on Friday morning, will be for $9 billion for flood insurance. The second will be on Jan. 15, the first full day of business in the next Congress, and will include $51 billion to help rebuild the regions of New Jersey, New York and Connecticut that were decimated by the hurricane in October. Together, the bills equal the current $60 billion bill pending in the House.
Two New York Republicans who districts were hit by the storm, Reps. Michael Grimm and Peter King, spent much of Tuesday night and Wednesday morning railing against Boehner for indicating he planned to punt a vote on the bill into the next Congress. Both were so mad they vowed to oppose Boehner for House speaker when they cast their votes in Thursday's leadership elections.
That was no longer the case by Wednesday afternoon.
"What's done is done," King said of Boehner failing to move the bill on Tuesday – a far cry from the tirade he unleashed on Boehner on Tuesday night and again on Wednesday morning. King was one of about half a dozen New Jersey and New York Republicans who emerged together from the meeting with Boehner and Cantor on Wednesday.
Asked specifically about those criticisms, King said, "That was a lifetime ago. I know, it was last night."
Grimm said he stayed behind after the meeting to confirm for himself that Boehner and Cantor were serious about bringing the Sandy aid bills to a vote.
"For me personally, I had to look him in the eye and shake his hand and say, 'I need to have your commitment as a man,'" Grimm said of Boehner. "And both Eric Cantor and Speaker Boehner gave me their commitment."
Asked if Boehner gave a reason why the bill wasn't just brought up on Tuesday night instead of in two weeks, King and Grimm both said Boehner didn't seem to want to bring up a major spending package right after the fiscal cliff deal went through.
"It was a horrendous day with some horrific votes that a lot of our conference was very unhappy with," Grimm said. "I don't think that [Boehner] felt that after the votes that we just took, that the conference was then, as a Republican conference, ready to vote on a big massive spending bill."
Indeed, even as the GOP lawmakers celebrated the coming votes on the Sandy aid package, there was still a feeling of skepticism as to whether GOP leaders could actually get the bills passed.
"Well, that's my job," Grimm said. "That's the job of the New York and New Jersey delegation. That's not the speaker's job."
UPDATE: 6:38 p.m. -- A Senate Democratic leadership aide said the Senate will seek unanimous consent to pass the $9 billion package on Friday, once it leaves the House.
As for the $51 billion package, "we will need to see more details before we decide how to proceed," said the aide. "As the Senate has shown by passing our bipartisan bill, we consider getting aid to the victims of Sandy a superlative priority, but we need to know more about the contents of the bill before deciding on a path forward."
UPDATE 4:46 p.m. -- Boehner and Cantor released a joint statement later Wednesday reaffirming their plans to hold Sandy aid votes:
"Getting critical aid to the victims of Hurricane Sandy should be the first priority in the new Congress, and that was reaffirmed today with members of the New York and New Jersey delegations. The House will vote Friday to direct needed resources to the National Flood Insurance Program. And on January 15th, the first full legislative day of the 113th Congress, the House will consider the remaining supplemental request for the victims of Hurricane Sandy."