Texas Republican Rep. Kevin Brady waved off questions this week about whether climate change affected the historic flooding Hurricane Harvey brought to his northern Houston district.
"I’m focused on relief of our families back home and our communities, so I don’t have time for the politics side of that," the chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee told reporters.
But asked how his district was holding up, Brady marveled at the storm’s power. "It was flooding I’ve never seen before in my life," he said.
Brady isn’t alone in sidestepping questions about climate change, even as Houston grapples with its third 500-year flood in three years. While some Republicans in storm-damaged liberal or moderate states like New York, New Jersey and Florida have started becoming more vocal in their warnings about climate change, conservative lawmakers who live in Harvey’s path haven’t followed suit.
Republicans from Texas and Louisiana say they haven’t had time to think about climate change in the wake of the disaster or that they want to steer clear of the "politics" of discussing the topic.
Scientists caution against blaming any particular weather event on climate change. But hurricane experts say warmer-than-normal waters seem to have strengthened Harvey and the three other hurricanes simultaneously churning over the Atlantic and Caribbean waters (see related story).
Republican Rep. Randy Weber, whose coastal district south of Houston includes Galveston and Beaumont, described the rain as falling in "biblical proportions." He surveyed the damage this week from a helicopter, finding to his surprise how many places remained below several feet of water.
That devastation hasn’t left much room to think about climate change, he said.
"I haven’t even gone down that path. I’m more focused on the human suffering," said Weber, who chairs the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Energy. "There may be, at a later date, some discussion on that. But I’m not thinking about that right now."
Weber added that his daughter, son-in-law and three grandchildren live in Florida, where evacuations have begun ahead of Hurricane Irma’s potential landfall as a Category 5 storm.
Republican Rep. John Culberson represents parts of central and western Houston. He’s chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee in charge of budgets for NASA, the National Science Foundation and other scientific agencies.
In the past, he’s been equivocal on humans’ role in climate change. In a 2015 interview with the Los Angeles Times, he said, "At this point, we don’t have accurate data, and the data’s in conflict and obviously the Earth’s climate has varied widely over the planet’s lifetime."
Culberson sidestepped questions on whether climate change played a role in Harvey’s devastation.
"Right now, we’re just coming out of survival mode," he said after the House approved nearly $8 billion in disaster funds. "I’m focused on making sure the people who lost their homes or their loved ones are made whole."
Rep. Clay Higgins, a Republican whose southwestern Louisiana district weathered Harvey, doesn’t see a climate connection. The flooding stemmed from issues with water management and "a failure to properly maintain water management infrastructure," his spokesman said.
Texas Democrats, meanwhile, have warned about the role climate change played in Harvey’s destruction. But they held back from criticizing their Republican colleagues while people are still tallying the damage and searching for loved ones.
Rep. Joaquin Castro, a Democrat from San Antonio, said it’s important for people to recognize that climate change "contributed to Houston’s suffering." But, he added, the disaster is still fresh, and the Republicans in his delegation will likely remain focused on recovery rather than the climate.
Houston Democratic Rep. Al Green said that isn’t unusual.
"We don’t talk about things like that too often," he said.