WASHINGTON – One of the biggest moments of Rep. Kathleen C. Hochul’s congressional career will likely turn out to be one of her last.
Early Wednesday, after pushing the nation back from the brink of the “fiscal cliff,” and only 36 hours before Hochul will leave Congress, the House gave final approval to her first free-standing bill: a measure calling on the Transportation Security Administration to turn over clothing left at airport checkpoints to organizations that help homeless veterans.
Less than two months after losing her seat in a close battle against Rep.-elect Chris Collins, R-Clarence, and with no plans to run for Congress again, Hochul took pleasure in the passage of a bipartisan measure that, she said, should have become law months earlier.
“I’m just glad it happened at all, particularly in the holiday season,” said Hochul, D-Hamburg. “It’s a statement of our priorities that Republicans and Democrats, the House and the Senate, can come together around something we agree on.”
The bill also seems symbolic, in a way, of Hochul’s 19-month career as a member of the House.
After winning a May 2011 special election in a conservative suburban-and-rural district that moved only farther to the right after redistricting, Hochul tried to drive in the middle of the political road throughout her tenure.
But again and again, she found herself facing incoming traffic from the right side of the road, as Republicans viewed her as someone they rightly should run over in the 2012 general election.
That being the case, Hochul’s “Clothe a Homeless Hero Act” seemed destined, at times, to become roadkill.
Hochul originally tried to get the measure tacked on as an amendment to another bill that would have given cash left at airports to the nonprofit United Service Organizations, but that measure went nowhere.
Hochul then introduced the measure for homeless veterans as a stand-alone bill, only to see it face delay after inexplicable delay in the Republican-controlled House.
Asked if the delays may have been politically motivated, Hochul said: “I can only imagine,” and called the delays “a very sad commentary on the priorities of the people in charge of Congress.”
Defeated in November, Hochul was undeterred. Left without an office since Thanksgiving, she said she largely worked out of the nearby Library of Congress, returning to the House floor to cajole members into pushing her veterans legislation.
The measure finally passed the House on Nov. 27, but the Senate changed the bill, making it clear that airports with pre-existing relationships with charities won’t have to end those relationships to give lost items to homeless veterans.
That meant the House had to approve the bill again, which it did in a voice vote at the turn of the new year.
It’s very likely to be the last bill that Hochul will ever get passed.
Asked if she might ever run for Congress again, Hochul said: “It is highly unlikely.” New York’s new, heavily Republican 27th District, she said, “is going to be a tough district for a long time.”
It will be Collins’ district as of noon today, but Hochul said she took pride in her brief work in Congress – including the veterans clothing bill, which she introduced after losing a scarf at Buffalo Niagara International Airport and learning that many airports don’t have a good way of redistributing lost clothing.
Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who pushed the bill to passage in the Senate, said the measure will have a lasting legacy.
“Too many veterans who bravely served our country are getting left out in the cold, and we need to do everything we can to be there for them,” Gillibrand said. “This is a small step that will help keep more struggling veterans and their families warm this winter.”