New Jersey’s outspoken governor, Chris Christie, shocked even long-time followers with his rant against Congress and House Speaker John Boehner. Did the presumptive presidential candidate put his foot in his mouth, or just say what a lot of Americans are thinking?
Christie and other political leaders in New York and New Jersey went ballistic on Wednesday when they learned that Boehner had delayed a vote on emergency aid for Hurricane Sandy victims.
Boehner made the decision in the heat of the dramatic fiscal cliff drama on New Year’s Day, and apparently didn’t have time to explain it directly to local leaders like Christie, Peter King, Andrew Cuomo and Chuck Schumer.
Christie and Cuomo issued a joint press release slamming Boehner, and then reporters learned that Christie had scheduled a press appearance to speak his mind about Boehner and the GOP congressional leadership.
The New Jersey governor has made his reputation verbally beating down his opponents in a colorful, expressive way, chock full of sound bites.
In this case, it was Christie, a presumed GOP presidential primary candidate, ripping, shredding, and castigating most of his own party’s leaders.
Christie went out of his way, however, to praise the number-two Republican leader in the House, Eric Cantor, for making an effort to keep politicians in the loop about the vote on the Sandy relief measures.
“There is only one group to blame for the continued suffering of these innocent victims: the House majority and their speaker, John Boehner,” said Christie, laying out his case like the former prosecutor he is.
Then came the quotes that will surface again in the 2016 campaign if Christie chooses to run.
“Disaster relief was something that you didn’t play games with. But now in this current atmosphere everything is the subject of one-upmanships, everything is a possibility, a potential piece of bait for the political game,” Christie said, reading from prepared remarks. “It is why the American people hate Congress.”
Within hours, Boehner scheduled two votes on the Hurricane Sandy relief package: one this week and one on January 15.
“Getting critical aid to the victims of Hurricane Sandy should be the first priority in the new Congress, and that was reaffirmed today with members of the New York and New Jersey delegations. The House will vote Friday to direct needed resources to the National Flood Insurance Program. And on January 15th, the first full legislative day of the 113th Congress, the House will consider the remaining supplemental request for the victims of Hurricane Sandy,” say Boehner and Cantor said in a joint statement released after Christie’s press conference.
One topic of debate on Thursday was that Christie either ruined his chances of becoming the GOP nominee because of his candor, or he became the frontrunner in 2016.
The National Journal’s Ron Fournier labeled Christie as the “smartest man in politics” for the governor’s full assault on the House leadership.
“The 2016 presidential election is ripe for the emergence of a game-changing political leader who either dramatically reforms one of the existing parties or mounts an independent bid,” he said.
How other Republican leaders feel about Christie remains to be seen, especially since Christie’s storm-damage tour with President Barack Obama was viewed as a factor in Mitt Romney’s decisive defeat in November.
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Within New Jersey, Christie’s popularity rating is about 70 percent in a state that has voted for Democrats in recent presidential elections.
Meanwhile, public opinion about Congress seems to be near all-time lows.
On December 19, Congress had an approval rating of 18 percent in a Gallup survey, but much of that rating was based on assumptions it would fully deal with the fiscal cliff before January.
Its all-time low Gallup rating was 10 percent, in February 2012 and August 2012, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see a similar number in early 2013 as two more fiscal cliff battles are fought in Congress.
Three polls from other groups showed similar results, and the Associated Press-National Constitution Center poll last fall showed that Congress was the third-least trusted of all American institutions, only ranking ahead of online news websites and blogs.
In a more recent Gallup poll, a large number of Americans said they were pessimistic about the future in general. About half of those polled said America had already seen its best days, and 65 percent expected a bad economic year in 2013—one of the lowest numbers for that question since 1965.
If voters relate their unhappiness with Congress to the 2014 midterm elections, Christie’s words could come back to haunt both parties, depending on how they are used.