Interviews

Gov. Chris Christie: 'Disasters should not be politicized'

New Jersey governor urges Washington lawmakers not to delay Harvey aid

 

This is a rush transcript from "Your World," August 29, 2017. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

NEIL CAVUTO, "YOUR WORLD" HOST: This is an ongoing crisis, as you can imagine.

And the president of the United States is in Austin meeting with the governor right now and his emergency officials and, again, close to half a dozen Cabinet members to try to see if they can marshal the resources that are needed here and get everybody on the same page.

That is crucial. And doesn't my next guest know it?

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie urging lawmakers not to delay Hurricane Harvey relief. That was a problem that he encountered back with Hurricane Sandy back in 2012.

The governor was kind enough to call in, joins me on the phone right now.

Governor, very good to have you.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE, R-NEW JERSEY: Neil, good to be back. Thank you.

CAVUTO: What do you make of this back and forth over aid and they might tie to a debt ceiling measure or whatever? But it seems eerily familiar to what you encountered with Sandy relief, that it's kind of hung up potentially in bureaucratese here.

CHRISTIE: Eerily familiar, and it's got to stop, Neil.

You are showing the pictures of the real-life suffering that is continuing and can in fact get worse in Houston, given the nature of this storm. And the federal government shouldn't be arguing with the people of Texas and with Congress about how to get this done.

The aid needs to be delivered. And tying it to debt ceiling or other things I think is a gross error. People's livelihoods shouldn't be tied with whether or not the United States Congress can responsibly get to a place where they can play their bills. They are paid to do that. They should do that.

But they are also paid to make sure that they take care of folks in a moment of disaster like this.

CAVUTO: So, you would think just have -- whatever funding you're going to have, emergency or otherwise, have it, don't tie it or attach it to anything or put provisos on it.

CHRISTIE: Absolutely not. Straight up-or-down vote on the aid that is necessary to make sure that the people in Houston not only can get through this first period, but I can tell you, from the Hurricane Sandy experience, that if this lasts for a while afterwards and the rebuilding that people are going to need to get their area back to what it needs to be, to be productive economically, to get schools back up and running, there is going to be extraordinary damage here.

And, you know, in Sandy, it was in the tens of billions of dollars, and we need to make sure that we do that for the people of Texas. It shouldn't be held political hostage, like Sandy aid was, and, quite frankly, Neil, from a lot of people who represent Texas in the United States Congress.

CAVUTO: Yes, I talked to a few of them today, Governor.

And they argued at the time, while they wanted Sandy relief, I guess the package had ballooned to $60 billion-plus. John Boehner was among those at the time concerned that people were throwing a lot of other things into this that had nothing to do with the aid that you wanted.

What you make of that?

CHRISTIE: Well, they had control of that, first of all.

And, secondly, a lot of them didn't even vote for the funding for the national flood insurance plan. There was nothing else involved in that, except for funding flooding -- for flood insurance that people had already paid for.

And so a lot of that is disingenuous and political rewriting. But what matters is not re-having that argument, but what matters is to say, listen, people waited over 65 days for federal relief aid to be voted on by Congress in Sandy, which was six times the amount of time they waited after Hurricane Andrew and even more than they waited, 10 times more, than they waited for Hurricane Katrina.

We can see we are getting worse over time. These things are getting more politicized. Disasters shouldn't be politicized, Neil. It's about people's lives and getting their lives rebuilt.

And I can tell you from knowing so many people in New Jersey and in the New York area who were -- their lives were devastated by Sandy, they don't want to hear about political arguments. They want to hear that the federal government is going to come in and partner with the state to get their homes and their businesses rebuilt and get their lives back together.

CAVUTO: Governor, there's been a great deal of discussion as to President Trump visiting the area today, not Houston, per se. He was in Corpus Christi. Now he's in Austin.

And already some have pounced on that to say he is there too soon. You can't seem to win at this. President Bush was criticized for arriving in New Orleans too late.

How do you think this president is playing it and how he's reacting to it?

CHRISTIE: I think he's done a great job so far.

And I think it's outrageous for anyone to argue he is there too soon. Let's remember Hurricane Sandy happened on October 29, 2012. President Obama showed up in New Jersey on October 31, 2012, two days later. President Trump is following the same type of rhythm.

I think it's the right thing to do. I think it was important for President Obama. And I can tell you from having traveled with him that day, that it was incredibly important for him to see the devastation for himself. It was important for him to hear from people were being affected, and it clearly informed a lot of decisions he made regarding relief aid going forward.

President Trump has put together a great team of folks to go with him to Texas. This is not some type of photo-op. This is a working time where he sits with Governor Abbott and they figure out what is really needed and in what priority.

Are it will form the basis for a relationship that's going to continue for months going forward to make sure the challenges are met. So, I think President Trump has done an extraordinary job so far. He and the first lady are right to be down there and to bring key members of his Cabinet.

And this is going to form a relationship between those Cabinet members and the Cabinet members of Governor Abbott, and Governor Abbott and the president. And they are going to need that relationship as they try to navigate the bureaucracy and the challenges that are going to come up from this storm.

CAVUTO: Governor Christie, we have been watching some really mesmerizing pictures coming out of Houston about the rescue efforts, so many people who are stranded in their homes.

And it immediately raised questions as to whether the mayor of that city was wise in holding off an evacuation, as the governor -- now, the governor, to be fair to him, when I had him on, Governor, had said he's not going to second-guess anyone.

He had -- the mayor had a very logical reason to hold off on that, but it did make me think of you, and you had some divisions in New Jersey I think with the Atlantic City mayor at the time about evacuating, and then he learned later on to regret that.

So, how do you deal with that?

CHRISTIE: Well, listen, as governor, you have got to make the ultimate decision about ordering evacuation or not.

And Governor Abbott, it appears, made the decision to defer to the mayor's judgment. That's perfectly acceptable. And I think what Governor Abbott did -- this is another one of those -- Neil, you talked about President Trump and when presidents go in or don't go in.

CAVUTO: Right.

CHRISTIE: You're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't.

I will give you two examples. In New Jersey, you will recall that, in 2011, we had Hurricane Irene. And Hurricane Irene was projected to be almost as bad as Hurricane Sandy. And as a result, I made the decision to evacuate the Jersey Shore in the summer during the height of our tourist season.

And then Hurricane Irene didn't really hit the shore area in any kind of great -- any kind of great effect at all. And I was really brutally criticized for overreacting and evacuating.

Fast-forward a year later to Hurricane, Superstorm Sandy. The same thing was presented to me, and I was getting a lot of advice from people saying, remember, you were criticized last time for evacuating. Maybe you shouldn't this time.

You make the best decision you can make based upon the information that is being given to you by the National Weather Service and by your folks on the ground. And there are always going to be critics. But, Neil, those critics are never the ones who have to sit in the big chair and make a decision.

I think what was done by the mayor is clearly a defensible position and by Governor Abbott. I don't think they should be criticized for it. The fact is that no matter where they evacuated these people to, there were going to be real challenges because of how really devastating this storm is.

And so I understand some of the criticism. I have sustained a lot of it. They made the best decision they could make, given the information they got. And that's why, in New Jersey, we have sent -- our urban search-and- rescue swift boat teams have been sent to Houston to help with those evacuations, since our state police have a ton of experience doing it.

And I have ordered our folks to be sent down there to assist Governor Abbott. So, there are New Jersey State Police boats and personnel down there in Houston right now helping to evacuate folks and get them back to safety.

CAVUTO: The one thing we remember, certainly, Governor, from Sandy is that it hung around a while, did a lot of damage. It was not formally a hurricane, more like a nor'easter.

Of course, there was the storm surge you had to deal with and everything else, but that the devastation, the destruction was there, and for quite some time. And indications are with this storm, pretty much the same. We are told that this could be something that lingers into October.

As a governor or as an official in a capacity to help people, how do you help people with that and to brace for something that could land and be with them for quite some time?

CHRISTIE: What you have to do is first keep them very well-informed.

The thing that will get people even more anxiety-ridden are surprises. And so, as governor, I used to go out. I would spend half my day out with the public for a couple of weeks after Sandy to make sure that they could see me and hear from me directly and get the most current information I had.

Secondly, what a governor needs to do in this situation is narrow your objectives. So you need to say, OK, here's what I'm going to do. What are the steps I need to take to return my people's lives as close to normalcy as possible?

For us, the four steps were return power, get kids back in school, make sure that roadways are usable and passable, and make sure that gasoline is available for people for their vehicles and their generators.

Those were our first four priorities. And if you keep yourself narrow, work as hard as you can to achieve those that restores some sense of normalcy to peoples' lives. And that, combined with giving them a great deal of information on a real-time basis, I think calms things a bit.

CAVUTO: By the way, no offense, Governor. My kids resent the fact that they were back at school so soon. So, it didn't...

CHRISTIE: I know they do. So did mine, by the way.

CAVUTO: It didn't work out quite as you planned.

(LAUGHTER)

CAVUTO: Finally, sir -- and I know you have got to go. I do want to get your sense of the battle, the budget battle in Washington.

And now they got this debt ceiling going on, as it told you, maybe attaching this provision to provide relief for Texas. You obviously are against that. But this might drag on a while.

Do you think an event like this could change that, though, that they would realize the risk of shutting down a government and that that could add to more problems, or what do you think comes out of an event like this?

CHRISTIE: You would hope that what folks in Washington would understand is that we elected them to go down there and run our government, not close it, and that when any time governments close -- and we had a brief closer, as you know, in New Jersey this year, the only one in my eight years, and the speaker of the assembly chose to not send me a budget and close down the government.

Any time the government is closed down, it's a failure by the people in charge. And so I would absolutely urge the president and the members of Congress that it's your job to resolve these disputes. It's your job to come and find common ground and not close down the government, because the people won't tolerate it.

And they don't like when their government is closed down. And they see it as a failure. I see it as a failure as a government official as well.

Now, it doesn't mean that you cave on every demand of the other side. Let's have a good-faith negotiation. Everybody sits down. Everybody has got to give a little bit. That's the nature of government today that you have to give a little bit to get a little bit.

Once you do that, keep the government open and keep moving in a positive direction for the American people. That's what we really need. That's what I have done in New Jersey for seven of my eight years. And it's really worked out better.

We have lower spending. We have lower taxes than we had before. We have been able to meet our conservative priorities while also making sure the government continues to operate and provide the services that people have come to expect, and, by the way, the services that they are paying for, because is not our money. It's theirs.

CAVUTO: You had no problem citing Republicans who blocked that aid with Sandy, and since. You have called Republicans on the carpet when you feel it's necessary.

This president has called Republican leaders, Mitch McConnell among, on the carpet for failed legislative initiatives. What do you think of that? A lot of people are saying he's burning bridges with the folks he's going to need.

CHRISTIE: Well, listen, I think you have got to be selective when you do it, because, in the end, you need to be able to work with these folks.

You need to make it on the issue and not personal. OK, if you have issues, policy disagreements, we can always argue about policy and still be civil to each other. So I don't have any problem with the president laying out his disagreements with members of Congress.

Where I differ is, we can't make it personal, because the same people that you make a deal -- you don't make a deal with this time, you're going to have to make with on something else.

And I think that's one of the things the president is getting adjusted to coming from the business world vs. being in the governmental political world.

We have -- Mitch McConnell is not going anywhere. Paul Ryan is not going anywhere. And so you don't want to burn those bridges. Have a policy disagreement, but don't make it personal.

And I think that the president I believe over the course of time will learn that, will learn that these things don't need to be personal, that in fact they can be worked out in a way that makes some sense, even with, as you said, when they delayed Sandy aid, I called John Boehner out personally both on the phone and in public and said this is unacceptable, because I'm standing up for my people.

But I never said that he was a bad guy. I never said he wanted to hurt the people of New Jersey. But their policy decision not to move Sandy aid quicker than 65, 66 days, that hurt people in my state. And you have got to stand up and say the facts.

I think if the president sticks to the facts and we don't get personal -- and, by the way, Congress shouldn't get personal with him either. And if we do it that way, Neil, we will be able to get by this stuff. But if you make it personal, we run some real risks.

CAVUTO: Are you going to join this administration after all is said and done?

CHRISTIE: One never knows, Neil.

I have another 140 days as governor of New Jersey. I'm looking forward to being the first governor in 30 years to complete two full terms in New Jersey. And I have got a lot of work still to do on the opioid crisis in our state and as President Trump's chairman of his opioid commission.

So, I have got a lot of work to still do on that in the next 140 days that Miami in office. Once I leave office, we will see what is going to come next.

You know my wife would like me to reach my financial potential.

(LAUGHTER)

CHRISTIE: So, I don't know if she thinks going to Washington would be the best thing in the world for that, with two more kids to put through college.

But I'm always there for the president. We speak regularly. I spoke with him just this past Friday again about a number of these issues. And he's my friend. He's been my friend for 15 years. So, I will always be there to help him. But if that will mean a formal role in the administration, you know, only time will tell.

CAVUTO: All right, but, Senator Menendez, as you know, the New Jersey senator, he is going to have a trial. He might have to leave. And you as-- if it happens under your watch as Republican governor could appoint a successor to him.

Would you ever think of appointing yourself?

CHRISTIE: Oh, listen, I don't see that happening, Neil.

And we will see what happens with Senator Menendez and whether there's a vacancy or not. But I really do believe that some of us are built for executive positions and some of us are built for legislative positions.

And I think I'm much more of an executive branch kind of guy.

CAVUTO: All right, Senator Chris Christie, thank you for taking the time, the New Jersey governor.

All right, what did I say? I already said it, didn't I? Senator Christie.

Governor Chris Christie.

CHRISTIE: Trouble, Neil. You are going to get me in trouble.

CAVUTO: I know. I apologize for that.

(LAUGHTER)

CAVUTO: Governor, thank you very, very much.

CHRISTIE: Thank you, Neil. Thanks for having me.

CAVUTO: All right. Same here.

END

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