Why didn't Congressman Michael Cloud sign letter to protect Hurricane Harvey relief money?
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U.S. Rep. Michael Cloud wasn't among the two dozen top Texas officials who signed a letter telling President Trump not to use Hurricane Harvey relief funds for a border wall. The absence of his signature stands out because he represents District 27, the largest physical area damaged by the hurricane.
Why didn't Cloud, of all people, sign a letter signed by Republicans and Democrats, coastal and non-coastal representatives, and proponents as well as opponents of the wall?
The answer is that the letter, whose most prominent signers are Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz and Gov. Greg Abbott, wasn't strident enough in favor of the wall to suit Cloud. So he wrote his own.
"Rep. Cloud is sending his own letter to the president stressing his opposition to using Hurricane Harvey relief funds for purposes other than what they were originally appropriated for," according to a Cloud spokesman. "His letter includes stronger language on the need to include a physical barrier as a part of the solution to secure the border."
The letter is dated Jan. 16 and was released publicly hours after the Caller-Times inquired about the absence of Cloud's signature on the bipartisan letter.
A spokesman said Cloud had started to write the letter before the Caller-Times reached out.
What does the letter Cloud didn't sign actually say?
Here's what the letter Cloud didn't sign said about border security: "We strongly support securing the border with additional federal resources including tactical infrastructure, technology, ports of entry improvements and personnel."
If you look carefully at that statement, what you'll see is wording crafted carefully to satisfy a political spectrum of supporters, ranging from Cruz, who backs the wall, to Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, who once famously put out a statement telling Trump to stick the wall where the sun don't shine.
What does that tell us about Cloud? The letter was an opportunity for him to join in a bipartisan statement on which a diverse group could agree, and he declined.
What does it tell us about Cloud's priorities?
Let's see: The hurricane affected pretty much all of District 27, which stretches along the coast from Corpus Christi to just south of Houston. Rockport and the surrounding towns including Port Aransas, at District 27's southern end, was where Harvey made landfall. It did not spare Victoria, Republican Cloud's home base.
Cloud declared hurricane relief a priority when he ran and won in both the special and general elections last year. But he also declared border security a priority.
“Rep. Cloud has been focused since day one on securing our southern border and helping the district recover from Hurricane Harvey," according to his spokesman. "He and his office have helped secure tens of millions of dollars for families, schools, and communities in our district, and he will continue working with the president to prioritize Hurricane Harvey relief."
U.S. House members from as far west of the coast as Midland stepped up in support of Hurricane Harvey victims by signing the letter Cloud chose not to sign. The whole point that the signers were trying to make is that Harvey relief and border security are separate issues.
How do the letters differ?
When Cloud chose not to sign the letter because of the border security wording, he glued those two issues - Harvey relief and border security - right back together for Trump. If that sounds like spin, consider Cloud's own words to Trump:
"Please continue to focus on disaster recovery and securing our southern border. The 27th Congressional District of Texas, the whole state of Texas, and our nation depend on it."
Those were the last two sentences of Cloud's letter to Trump. Now, contrast his final two sentences with the final two sentences of the other letter urging Trump, explicitly, not to mix those two unrelated agendas:
"Thank you for your commitment to help Texas respond to Hurricane Harvey and to secure the southern border. We ask that you ensure necessary efforts on border security do not jeopardize long-term hurricane recovery and mitigation in Texas."
Why does the bipartisan letter matter?
What made the bipartisan letter powerful was that powerful people, many of whom stand with Trump, stood up to him. The absence of the signature of the representative of the biggest mass of land hit by Harvey made it less powerful.
Now Trump can point out to the signers and say: Look, the guy whose district was in the eye of the hurricane didn't even sign it, so why shouldn't I use Harvey relief funds for my wall?
What's at stake: Harvey, which hit in late summer 2017, caused an estimated $125 billion in damage, which is the second-costliest in U.S. history since 1900. Texas is having to share about $90 billion in disaster relief with other states.