Transcript: Press briefing Q&A with NJ Gov. Chris Christie on the stalled Hurricane Sandy relief funding

Edited by Jenny Jiang

Partial transcript of press briefing Q&A with NJ Gov. Chris Christie on the stalled $60 billion disaster relief package for states impacted by Hurricane Sandy Jan. 2, 2013:  

Question: [inaudible]

Gov. Chris Christie: Well, listen. You know, it’s hard for me not from this distance to speculate about what the specifics of what caused this. All I can tell you is this: We were given assurances by everyone – by “we” I meant myself and Governor Cuomo – over the weekend that this was going to be done. We got continued assurances as late as last night at 9 p.m. that as soon as the vote on the fiscal cliff was over that the rule would be discussed for voting today on the aid package. And so it’s hard for me to tell. All I can think this was the Speaker’s [decision] – his alone.

And I could tell you that our representatives down in Congress on both sides of the aisle in New York and New Jersey were working with unrivaled bipartisanship together.

As to who I’ve spoken to today, the President called me earlier today to assure me of his continued support – that this is going to continue to be a priority for the administration.

I spoke to Majority Leader [Eric] Cantor earlier today. I have to tell you I think Eric was working as hard as he could to get this done for us throughout the weekend and the early part of this week.

And I had a conversation with the Speaker this morning, where he informed me he’ll be meeting this afternoon with members of the New York-New Jersey delegation from the Republican Party.

So as to what’s gone on, I think you see a lot of palace intrigue down there and I think that unfortunately folks have put politics ahead of their responsibilities.

And you know, listen, I understand it’s challenging as politicians to stop playing politics but we have jobs to do, and I’ve been confronted with this situation a number of times in the time I’ve been Governor – you do the right thing for the people who sent you there. Enough with all of the politics.

Question: [inaudible]

Gov. Chris Christie: You’d have to ask that – believe me, I was given no explanation, Michael. I was given no explanation. I was called at 11:20 p.m. last night by Leader Cantor and told that authority for the vote was pulled by the Speaker.

And our delegation asked for meeting with the Speaker at the time; they were refused. I called the Speaker 4 times last night, after 11:20 p.m. and he did not take my calls. So you’d have to ask the Speaker.

Question: [inaudible]

Gov. Chris Christie: Sure, I mean, listen. Everyday that we don’t begin to get this aid are days that we can’t help people get back to their homes, get businesses re-opened, get our economy moving in the state again. Those are the real consequences of it – inability for people to plan about what their future is going to be. It’s absolutely disgraceful.

And I have to tell you this used to be something that was not political. You know, disaster relief was something that you didn’t play games with. But now in this current atmosphere, everything is the subject of one-upmanship, everything is a possibility of potential peace of bait for the political game. And it is just – it is why the American people hate Congress. It’s why they hate them.

And Governor Cuomo and I are as frustrated as two people could be because unlike people in Congress, we have actual responsibilities and we have a responsibility to make things happen.

Question: [inaudible]

Gov. Chris Christie: I doubt it. I think most people have gone home.

Question: [inaudible]

Gov. Chris Christie: I’d be happy to pay you tomorrow for a hamburger today. Brian [SP], I was being assured all weekend that this was going to be done, that this was done. My help was in this – in rounding up votes, and I spoke to members from all over the country. I spent most of New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day on the phone with members of Congress all over the country soliciting their support and vote for this package.

So I’m not going to get into the specifics of what I discussed with John Boehner today but what I will tell you is there is no reason for me at the moment to believe anything they tell me, because they’ve been telling me stuff for weeks and they didn’t deliver.

And it’s an appropriate time, by the way, for me to say that I have to give real credit to Sen. Menendez, who worked extraordinarily hard in making this happen and he deserves great credit for it. And to give real credit to both the Republican and Democratic delegations in the House. They worked seamlessly together. I was on the phone regularly with Rep. [Frank] LoBiondo, Rep. [Rodney] Frelinghuysen, Rep. [Frank] Pallone who were taking the leads on this from Republican and Democratic sides. And they all worked tirelessly on this, so they deserve great credit.

But in terms of – the difference is, Brian [SP], it ain’t done ’til it’s done, and we learned that at 11:20 p.m. last night having been assured for days that it was going to happen.

So you know, that’s the difference, Brian [SP]. If it gets done in a couple of weeks – again, everyday that goes by – talk to the people down in Union Beach. Talk to the folks at Toms River. Talk to the people in Lavallette. Ask them if another 2 weeks matter to them and their lives? Those are the people I’m concerned about. Those are the people I care about – not the politicians in Washington, D.C. who will say whatever they need to say to get through the next day.

Question: [inaudible]

Gov. Chris Christie: Yes, and they should too. And all I can tell them is what I said at the end here. Governor Cuomo and I are not wallflowers. We are not shrinking violets. And we have resources at our disposal too and we’re going to continue to work together, fight together to make sure that this happens. And I still believe that it will happen because I do believe there are more good people in Congress than bad, and that eventually this will happen. But if the people of New Jersey feel betrayed today by those who did this in the House last night, then they have good company. I’m one of them.

Question: [inaudible]

Gov. Chris Christie: I’m exercising one of them right now.

Question: [inaudible]

Gov. Chris Christie: Not that I’ve been made aware of by counsel’s office of the Attorney General at this point.

Question: [inaudible]

Gov. Chris Christie: I think you have to be more specific than that because there were some people who have been extraordinarily helpful. You know, so, but certainly at the moment, I wouldn’t be looking to do much for House leadership.

Question: [inaudible]

Gov. Chris Christie: As long as the total is $65 [billion], I don’t really care how they split it up. I think that was an effort by Leader Cantor and Rep. Frelinghuysen, who took the co-lead on this, to come up with something that could pass. I think the theory was there were many people in the Republican caucus who would vote – a majority, I think – that would vote for $27 billion. That stuff would vote for the additional $33 [billion]. By splitting it up, they would give along with Democratic votes for the $33 [billion], they would get to a majority in the House. I think that was the strategy that Leader Cantor and Rep. Frelinghuysen came up with.

And given what I heard throughout the weekend, from leaders of the Democratic Party in the House and by the Republican members that I spoke to, I am absolutely confident that the bill would pass.

Question: [inaudible]

Gov. Chris Christie: Completely, completely ridiculous…

Question: [inaudible]

Gov. Chris Christie: We sent a ton of information down there. Leader Cantor, who’s not known as someone who’s a spendthrift, was satisfied to be the person to lead the way on this.

This is like know-nothings out there who, you know, read a press clipping of the AP about some stuff that was put in there by the Senate that amounted to about $400 million in a $60 billion package that all of sudden says this is a pork package. Those guys should spend a little more time reading the information we sent them and a little less time reading the political talking points put together by their staff. And they know who they are.

Question: [inaudible]

Gov. Chris Christie: It’s too early to tell.

Question: [inaudible]

Gov. Chris Christie: Well, you know, again I mean, Congress controls its own calendar. I mean, this much we know. The President is ready, willing, and able to sign this. We have a majority in the United States Senate of both Republicans and Democrats who were favorably disposed to the $60 billion package, and I believe we have a majority of the House of Representatives as well. It’s a matter of the Speaker deciding when he wants to do this because it was his decision to stop it.

Question: [inaudible]

Gov. Chris Christie: That’s the point I was trying to make in response to Brian’s question, which is you know there’s always something down there, they’re always bickering about something with each other and not getting anything done. So you know what’s the next one going to be? I don’t know. That’s why I want to get this done because we have work to do here. And New Jersey and New York have stood up every time Louisiana, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri have needed aid for disasters. New Jersey and New York’s records on this, regardless of party, have stood up and been there for them. It’s now time for them to stand up for this region of the country as well. This should not be something that’s subject to politics. This is a basic function of government. And so yeah, I’m concerned about it because every day that it doesn’t happen is a day that doesn’t happen. So I can’t take anybody’s anymore.

Question: [inaudible]

Gov. Chris Christie: My understand, Paul, is that the flood insurance program will run out of money next week if not re-financed by Congress. And so the Speaker’s irresponsible actions in not moving on anything at least appears, from the information I’ve been given, will leave the flood insurance program broke by the end of next week.

Question: [inaudible]

Gov. Chris Christie: I’m not concerned about that. It’s more the indecision that’s the problem. You know, we’ve found in non-disaster-related times that the biggest complaint about the Corzine administration, besides their taxation policies, was the fact that they could never make a decision. So businesses would sit for months and months and months and wait for decisions to be made – good, yes or no – sitting on the Governor’s desk. You know, we’ve wiped away a lot of that indecision in this administration for better or for worse [inaudible], but we’ve wiped away that indecision. Indecision is crippling to business decisions. So if we can’t act decisively then they won’t act decisive or, worse yet, they’ll act decisively someplace else. So it’s a concern for sure.

Question: [inaudible]

Gov. Chris Christie: I have not yet been given any assurance from anyone that is credible with me about that.

Question: [inaudible]

Gov. Chris Christie: Listen, this is unfortunately the toxic politics of Congress right now. They can’t agree with each other. I mean, for somebody who has a real job to do here, you know, who’s held responsible for the lives and health and safety of people in this state, it is extraordinarily frustrating to me that we’ve got people down there who use the citizens of this country like pawns on a chessboard. That’s the way the citizens of New York and New Jersey were treated last night. On a political chessboard of internal palace intrigue politics, our people were played last night like a pawn. And that’s why people hate Washington, D.C. That’s why they hate this politics.

Last night, it was my party responsible. Both parties can take plenty of responsibility over time, but last night my party was responsible for this.

Question: [inaudible]

Gov. Chris Christie: Listen, I’m not a member of the House. I don’t get a vote. I don’t care.

Question: [inaudible]

Gov. Chris Christie: I don’t know. I hope not. I hope we’re not, you know, really believing that people live in New York and New Jersey are second-class citizens, especially given the fact – as I said earlier – that we contribute so much more to the operation of the federal government than we ever get back in return. There’s a regional bias that should be in our favor when we finally have a problem.

But, you know, I can tell you this though, a lot of our support for the $60 billion came from members in places like Louisiana, Alabama, Florida, who have been through this – California – and who know how difficult this is. We’ve got some support from Iowa as well. You know, folks who’ve been through dangerous disasters and know you don’t play games with this. Apparently, that was ripped out of the House leadership manual from last night.

Question: [inaudible]

Gov. Chris Christie: No, I don’t think I have anything to do with this. This is internal House politics; I have nothing to do with it.

Question: [inaudible]

Gov. Chris Christie: Yes, I was.

Question: [inaudible]

Gov. Chris Christie: More than 30. Probably between 30 and 40.

Question: [inaudible]

Gov. Chris Christie: No one is beyond redemption. You know? Do your job and come through for the people of this country as a national leader the way you should and I’ll be fine.

I mean, everybody makes mistakes. I think last night was a big mistake, and I think it could be rectified and can be rectified by him. So no, he hasn’t lost all credibility with me but right now, I think what happened last night was absolutely uncalled for and I’ve been given no credible explanation as to why.

But again, he’s the Speaker of the House and tomorrow’s another day so you know he can prove to me that he really does care about the people of New York and New Jersey by getting this package done.

Question: [inaudible]

Gov. Chris Christie: The only discussion on that was the $400 million or so that was put into the bill in the Senate by – for non-Sandy-related stuff. Fisheries. Something Alaska and Colorado. A roof on the Smithsonian. There were a couple of things like that. But other than that, no.

But there are some who have a philosophical point of view that some of the things in the package should never be involved in disaster relief packages, not questioning the validity of our numbers; they question the philosophical approach of whether or not it should be something that should be included in disaster relief.

But no, other than that $400 million, no one has come back to us to say our number were wrong or bad or inflated or cooked or anything like that.

Question: [inaudible]

Gov. Chris Christie: Get the package done. I mean, I don’t think it’s possible to get it done at this Congress. The information I’m getting from my members is that a lot of the members, especially ones who have retired, are gone. And so you may not even have enough people in the Capitol at this moment to get it done.

I don’t know. If – listen – if that were possible, I would love to have it done today, concurred by the Senate tomorrow, and have this over with.

But you know, I’m hoping that this gets put on a fast track to getting done as quickly as possible.

You heard the numbers. You know, 10 days on Katrina. 17 days after Ike and Gustav. 31 days on Andrew. By those days, they had their money in hand. This is 66 days and counting. It’s unprecedented. It’s outrageous.

And this is what happens – they’re all so caught up in their politics of this fake fiscal cliff – right? – and so consumed by their own palace intrigues in the Congress, the White House, the House and the Senate – these groups of the House Democrats versus this House Democratic group; this group of House Republicans versus this group of House Republicans – that they forget that we send them there. We send them there to do the work for us – not to sit down there and play with each other. That’s what they’re doing.

This thing’s been sitting around. The President’s sent this 3 weeks ago – had been fully vetted by OMB 3 weeks ago. There’s no reason for it to be sitting around. And they didn’t do it with anyone else.

And I believe it’s not a regional thing; I believe it’s the fact that they are so consumed with their own internal politics that they have forgotten that they have a job to do…They have a job to do. When you’re Governor, you never can forget that; you don’t have that luxury. Governor Cuomo and I don’t have that luxury.

Question: [inaudible]

Gov. Chris Christie: No, no, no, no, no, no. This is internal – I’m telling you that it’s internal politics. That’s what it is.

Question: [inaudible]

Gov. Chris Christie: I’m not dealing with the Tea Party. Next -

Question: [inaudible]

Gov. Chris Christie: No. Charlie. Charlie – I’m off it. I told you – hear my answer to him? Why would my answer to you be any different? Next question. Come up with something else. Next question.

Question: [inaudible]

Gov. Chris Christie: Our ability to be able to help small businesses on the Shore and elsewhere get up and running – huge difference. To help people get back into their homes – huge difference. To be able to know can we replenish the beaches and rebuild the beaches to make the inland areas safe and it’s safe to rebuild in these towns – these are all real-life things that need to be dealt. What do we do with the infrastructure that was damaged or destroyed – New Jersey Transit, the utilities and others? You know, these are all things that need to be decided. Are they going to be paid by ratepayers or if they’re going to be absorbed by the federal government? These are all things that need to be decided but no decision can be made until we know what role the federal government is willing to play in all this – not delays in people’s ultimate returns to complete normalcy…

What my role is as Governor is to return them to complete normalcy. Everyday that goes by they impede my ability to do that, and that’s incredibly frustrating because let me guarantee you something: It’s hard enough to do this even if everything is working. Even if they acted in 17 days or 10 days or even 31 days, it would still be difficult to do that and so when they continue to delay this long with no end in sight, it becomes, you know, even more challenging and more discouraging.

Question: [inaudible]

Gov. Chris Christie: …Everyday that goes by is a wasted day. It’s a wasted day where we can’t do things.

Question: [inaudible]

Gov. Chris Christie: We’ll see. Primaries are a ugly thing.

Question: [inaudible]

Gov. Chris Christie: I guess people can understand that mitigations of New Jersey’s – some of the different issues when it comes to the shoreline…what I’m saying some of the members are – is the rebuilding of the beach mitigation or is it restoration? You know, it’s – it depends on the eye of the beholder but to me, you can’t responsibly rebuild unless and until you know that you’re going to have the right type of barrier at the beach and so then how high do you build, how high do you build – all that’s depended upon what the shoreline looks like. So that may be mitigation to some but to me, it’s restoration back to where it was before or made better so you can make the wise kind of investment decisions on how to rebuild private property and governmental properties as a matter of fact.

Question: [inaudible]

Gov. Chris Christie: Well, I hope whatever they wanted to achieve amongst each other, they achieved and can move on to business. If one set of Republicans were trying to prove something to another set of Republicans, I hope they’ve achieved that. The Speaker was trying to prove something against somebody else, I hope he’s achieved it. Whatever it is that they were trying to accomplish, I hope they accomplished it so I can move on to business. Because this is the only conclusion I can come to because there were no – to this moment there’s been no substantive reasons given to me that are credible as to why and certainly not by the decision makers.

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3 Comments on “Transcript: Press briefing Q&A with NJ Gov. Chris Christie on the stalled Hurricane Sandy relief funding

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