Politicizing Hurricane Harvey

Category 4 storm Hurricane Harvey wreaked havoc along the Gulf Coast last week. Now, legislatures and the country at large are faced with the devastation in its wake.

In response to this natural disaster, the current administration, media and civilians alike have unified around the affected areas through pushing comprehensive legislation to send relief or donating to charity.

However, some politicians seem eager to prove even hurricanes are political.

Environmental Regulation (or Lack Thereof)

Pundits and scientists have done their research on what most likely caused Hurricane Harvey to be one of the most destructive hurricanes in modern American history. But through framing and loaded language, most of these explanations have come off as partisan attacks.

Liberals have used the hurricane coverage to rant about the anti-regulatory Republican agenda.

In response to a Houston-area chemical plant meltdown that Harvey caused, Politico’s Ben Lefebvre and Alex Guillén highlighted criticism against the administration’s proposed EPA budget cuts and general support for deregulatory policies.

Even though the rejected regulation is aimed at preventing future accidents like this one, the authors admit at the top of the article that “the rule in question probably wouldn’t have prevented Thursday’s explosions.”

“It is not politically opportunistic to raise this issue now,” wrote CNN’s Mark Lynas, who also explicitly connected Hurricane Harvey to climate change.

“Instead, we have a moral duty not to accept the attempted conspiracy of silence imposed by powerful political and business interests opposed to any reduction in the use of fossil fuels,” Lynas continued. He then spent the rest of his article capitalizing on the tragedy to advocate for climate reform.

Predictably, many conservatives publicly combated the narrative that climate change was to blame for the hurricane.

“What’s inconvenient for the climate change movement is that Harvey broke up a 142-month hurricane drought,” Washington Times’ Valerie Richardson pointed out. While the article largely draws from climatologists and researchers, it reads as a biting indictment of what Richardson called the left-wing “climate ‘consensus’ camp.”

Republican Hypocrisy?

Some pundits criticized Republican congressmen hoping to draft a relief bill for Hurricane Harvey because many of these politicians did not support a relief bill for the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler used Texas Rep. Ted Cruz’s opposition to Sandy aid and support of Harvey aid to highlight this perceived hypocrisy. In particular, Kessler attacked Cruz’s claim that the Sandy relief bill was “filled with unrelated pork.”

“A disaster-relief bill should include funds for … disaster relief,” wrote Theodore Kupfer for The National Review, defending Cruz and his colleagues for opposing the Sandy relief bill due to unrelated pork-barrel spending provisions. “That happens to be what Texas politicians are asking for. They’re doing their jobs. They were doing their jobs during the Sandy saga, too.”

Issues over pork-barrel provisions aren’t the only attacks Texas Republicans have been subject to. Pundits on both sides of the aisle have condemned inconsistencies in conservative financial philosophy amidst the natural disaster.

In an op-ed that reads like a fiscal conservative hit-piece, The Nation’s Joan Walsh used the natural disaster, as well as others like Katrina, to condemn what she perceives as irresponsible Republican policy.  “Houston is a monument to … unfettered capitalism backed by government-backed flood insurance, that is — privatizing profit, socializing risk.”

“Texas, a state that I thought understood capitalism, punishes people who practice it,” Reason’s John Stossel wrote in reference to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s outrage over price hikes in Houston’s devastated areas.

Stossel goes even further and disavows government natural disaster relief and regulation in favor of an unfettered free marketplace. “Prices should rise during emergencies. Price changes save lives. That’s because prices aren’t just money — they are information.” (sic)

Tearing Us Apart

Wednesday afternoon, President Donald Trump announced the approval of Harvey relief funding bundled with a three-month budget extension with none other than Democratic congressional leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. Trump seems to have circumvented members of his own party in order to strike a deal and get a win on the scoreboard.

The New York Times’ Carl Hulse noted earlier that if Congress does pass a robust hurricane relief package, this could be perceived as a public-relations victory for the administration. “Mr. Trump is eager to be seen as a competent manager in his first big test in a natural disaster, and a shutdown could shatter that image.”

Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell agreed to bring the president’s deal to the floor, but made it “clear this was a deal between Democratic leaders and the president.”

Budget reconciliation and financial debate aside, political actors and partisans have also used the storm to promote resistant movements, call for the Texas governor’s resignation and question the morality of donating to charities that could potentially save political opponents.

In short, one of the worst natural disasters to hit the Gulf Coast in modern America has hardly brought anyone together. Rather, it’s accentuated the polarized and adversarial political climate in Washington and felt across the country.

For the sake of those affected by Harvey and for those who will be hit by the even more powerful Category 5 Hurricane Irma, hopefully the country’s lawmakers can focus more on uniting behind policy to help these communities than advancing their own political agendas.

To learn more about where to donate to help Hurricane Harvey victims, click here.

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