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Texas Republicans, Democrats get a big, gentle thanks from Pence

Texas Rep. Pete Olson speaks at a press conference outside the Capitol Thursday afternoon.
Texas Rep. Pete Olson speaks at a press conference outside the Capitol Thursday afternoon. Andrea Drusch

Texas Republicans, caught between denying their state hurricane relief funds and supporting a deal struck with Democrats, got a big, warm “Thank You” from Vice President Mike Pence Thursday night.

So did Democrats.

“Thank you to the efforts that you’ve made on behalf of your constituents, and thank you for the progress we are making. Now that the rescue effort is through, we’re all the way into recovery and rebuilding. We’re truly grateful,” Pence told the bipartisan delegation, visiting the vice president’s home for a casual dinner.

Pence, a former congressman, cited Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, saying “ he has already made it possible to make the first step for families and businesses in Texas to rebuild.”

The meeting was planned by Pence’s office earlier in the week, but came at a tense time for the White House and congressional Republicans. The House is expected to vote Friday on an aid package that has more than $15 billion for aid to storm-ravaged parts of Texas and Louisiana. But the legislation also includes extending the debt limit and government funding for another three months, proposals not usually popular with conservatives.

President Donald Trump surprised Republicans Wednesday by striking a deal with Senate Democrats to tie the Harvey relief to a debt ceiling increase. The Senate overwhelmingly approved the measure Thursday. Cornyn and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, voted for the bill.

Some members of the Texas House delegation are so irritated they’re suggesting they could vote against the funds for their own hurricane-ravaged state. A handful said Thursday that they would use their time with Pence tonight to voice concerns about the way the deal was made with Democrats.

“As much as I want to help Texas, I can’t vote for something that’s a blank check on the debt,” said Republican Rep. Joe Barton, whose district includes parts of Arlington and Fort Worth.

Barton told reporters he won’t be the only Texan voting against the deal.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency desperately needs that money for its Disaster Relief Fund, which funds recovery efforts, and is set to run out of money at the end of the week.

The House, including Barton, voted overwhelmingly earlier in the week to give the agency $7.85 billion in additional funds, but with no debt ceiling or budget changes.

Then came the Trump deal. Conservatives said it ceded leverage on other legislative issues later in the year. As of Thursday afternoon, leaders of the 150-member conservative Republican Study Committee had panned the plan, and many of the group’s members were threatening to vote against it.

Pence, though, struck a gentle, conciliatory tone.

“We’re grateful for the bipartisan support that’s come behind this legislation. $15.5 billion dollars. Sen. Cornyn, you were instrumental. President Trump is anxious to sign the legislation,” Pence said.

“We do recognize that this is short-term emergency funding. It’s the first, not the last, step. Each of us need to do all that we can to continue to support efforts for Texas,” he said.

Also at the dinner was Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. “Good to be here with my fellow Texans,” he said.

Someone shouted out: “We don’t have to have an interpreter."

Contact: Andrea Drusch at adrusch@mcclatchydc.com

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