WASHINGTON – A high-profile Democratic fundraiser in Houston this weekend is causing a stir both in the state and in Washington.
U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer will headline a fundraiser in Houston on Saturday that will raise money for several Democratic Senate incumbents and candidates, including U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of El Paso, who is vying to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.
But it’s the fundraiser’s location – Hurricane Harvey-ravaged Houston – and the host, a Congressional candidate named Tahir Javed, that were the sources of tension among Texas political players on Friday.
For Republicans, it was an opportunity to hammer Schumer over a hold up in a massive disaster funding bill. Back in December, House Republicans passed $ 81 billion in disaster relief bill, to be split between Texas and states hit hard this year by hurricanes and wildfires.
In a chamber that needs a supermajority to pass such measures, Senate Republicans are several votes short and Schumer announced just before the holiday recess that the funding would be addressed in the new year when the Senate could weigh in with its priorities.
“We’re not going to allow things like disaster relief to go forward without discussing some of these other issues we care about,” he said, per The Washington Post. “We have to solve these issues together.”
U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston, who is in a tough fight for re-election this year, slammed Schumer in Houston to the Texas Lyceum group.
“The House has already done our job,” he said. “As the senior appropriator from Texas, I was in a great position to make sure the bill that passed the House funded every [federally-approved] flood control project in Harris County.”
“I hear he’s in Houston this weekend,” he said. “I hope when Schumer comes to Houston on Saturday he will come out to visit neighborhoods that have suffered.”
Culberson then reminded the group that he was the lone Texas Republican who voted for disaster funding when superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc in Schumer’s home state of New York.
“I’m the Texas Republican who voted for the Hurricane Sandy relief bill because I knew we’d be in the same position someday,” he added.”Just as I was there for his constituents when Sandy hit, I hope he’ll be there for Texans.”
The House Democratic campaign arm, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, responded by pointing to unsuccessful efforts by local officials over the years to get federal funding to protect Texas against storms like Harvey.
“Instead of pointing fingers after a hurricane, Congressman Culberson should have voted to repair unsafe 80-year old dams and properly fund disaster relief so that his constituents weren’t unnecessarily put at risk by unsafe infrastructure,” said DCCC spokesman Cole Leiter in a statement. “Instead he’s playing politics and refusing to take ownership for a problem he helped create.”
U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands, chimed in on Twitter: “Hey Texas Democrats – don’t give your money to Sen Schumer at his Houston fundraiser Saturday.. He’s blocking $ 81 billion Harvey disaster aid in Senate. Send your $ $ $ to Harvey victims instead. #HarveyAidNow#SchumerStopDelaying”
The Senate GOP campaign arm also seized on the fundraiser, and it’s Texas beneficiary.
“O’Rourke’s blind loyalty to Washington Democrats like Schumer, who has been stalling disaster aid to Houston, shows that he will always put partisanship ahead of doing what’s best for Texas,” said Katie Martin, the spokeswoman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
At the same time, the fundraiser created some irritation within Texas Democratic Congressional circles.
The Houston Chronicle reported earlier this week that Congressional candidate Tahir Javed will host the event. A wealthy and prolific fundraiser, he is running for the Texas 29th Congressional District, a Democratic-heavy seat that U.S. Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston, is vacating.
Schumer’s association with Javed is at odds with the local and federal Democratic establishments, who are lining up behind state Sen. Sylvia Garcia‘s bid for the seat. Garcia has the endorsements of Green, several members of the Texas delegation, and most recently earned the nod of EMILY’s List, a powerhouse national Democratic fundraising organization.
While the grumbling was mostly private, it was plain on Friday afternoon that several Texas Democratic Congressional sources who were supportive of Garcia were not happy with the situation.
O’Rourke told the Tribune he will attend the event at the invitation of Javed and Houston attorney Nomi Husain
“They asked me to come a long time ago, and I said, ‘Absolutely,’ and I’m going to honor that commitment,” O’Rourke said.
Besides O’Rourke, the money raised at the fundraiser will be evenly split between U.S. Sens. Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Bill Nelson of Florida and U.S. Rep. Jacky Rosen of Nevada.
Efforts to reach Schumer for comment were unsuccessful Friday.
Emily Ramshaw contributed to this report.
Disclosure: The Texas Lyceum has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.