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Christie: After Sandy, Congress learned its lesson for Harvey aid

September 11, 2017 at 6:35 PM EDT
Superstorm Sandy devastated New Jersey in 2012 and killed more than 150 people. As Florida copes with Tropical Storm Irma and Texas rebuilds in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the lessons learned in overcoming a natural disaster and his work leading the president's Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: It was five years ago this fall when Hurricane Sandy slammed into the Northeastern United States, leaving a death toll in the U.S. alone of more than 150 people. By the end, 24 states were affected, damages totaled over $70 billion, and it all happened at the height of the 2012 presidential election.

New Jersey was the site of landfall for what became known as Superstorm Sandy and what developed into a defining moment for that state’s governor, Chris Christie.

Today, Governor Christie is also leading the response to a different national emergency, as head of the White House Commission on Combating Drug Addiction in the opioid crisis.

And Governor Christie joins me now.

Governor, welcome to the NewsHour.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE, R-N.J.: Hi, Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, thank you for being here.

We know that Irma, the storm, is still wreaking havoc on the Southeastern U.S., but based on what you have seen, your own experience, do you believe that government at all levels have done everything they could have to prepare for that storm?

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE: Yes, it looks like Governor Scott worked well with the feral government and his local authorities to get millions of people evacuated, which is the first challenge for a governor, then to have the shelters ready to be able to house people, as many as need that type of housing.

And now the next challenges are going to come as the storm dissipates and they see what it’s wrought and how to recover.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you believe that there is going to be aid for Florida and other states that need it in a way that aid wasn’t necessarily there timely after Sandy?

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE: Well, I hope that they learned their lesson in Congress. It appears they did by how quickly they moved to vote for Hurricane Harvey aid for Texas, even though those folks were not nearly as quick to get that aid to the Northeast in the result of Superstorm Sandy.

So, I think they have learned that lesson. That mistake was made. I hope it will never be repeated, because it really set back recovery here much more than it ever would have had to. And it caused anxiety among people that is completely unnecessary. As a nation, when we have a national emergency like this one, we need to stand together and help each other, regardless of what region of the country we come from, what political party we’re in, or what philosophy we follow.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We know federal dollars are scarce, Governor.

Is there a formula for how much after a natural disaster like this is the federal government’s responsibility, the state’s responsibility, private citizens’ responsibility?

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE: Well, listen, I think most of it is the federal government’s responsibility.

Now, those who have private insurance and other means will not necessarily be able to access government programs, which are meant for those who are most truly in need. But there’s infrastructure that needs to be rebuilt and other things that, regardless of your economic level, you need to have there for your state to be able to operate.

I think this has always been predominantly a federal government responsibility. States will contribute to it, but a lot of these states like Florida and Texas now, their economies will be damaged by this storm and, as a result, their tax revenues will be lower at the local and the state level.

And so all this moves us towards the need for a federal response. And there’s no doubt that this is one of the things the federal government is there for, to deal with the health, safety and welfare of the American people. And so I don’t think Congress will hesitate to be able to put the funds in place that are necessary to rebuild what’s been destroyed in Houston and in Florida.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I want to ask you about the other crisis that you’re very much involved in now, and that’s, of course, the opioid crisis that has been gripping this country, chairing the president’s commission.

You urged the president to declare a national emergency back in the middle of the summer. He eventually did that. It took a while for it to happen, but he did.

But it’s now been over a month. I think a number of people are starting to ask, where are the results? What is going to happen as a result of declaring this emergency? Where is the action?

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE: Well, Judy, I know from — I was just at the White House last week to discuss this with the president’s senior staff.

I know they are focused on putting a number of the recommendations that the commission has made in their interim report into place. I’m anxious to see that happen, like everyone else, because I think what we’re going to hear pretty soon, Judy, is that, in 2016, we had over 60,000 Americans die of a drug overdose.

This is much greater than the AIDS epidemic in terms of numbers. This is more than automobile accidents kill folks every year. This is an extraordinary crisis in our country’s history, and I’m anxious to have those interim report recommendations implemented.

And I know the White House is working very hard now to make sure it’s done in a way that’s most efficient and most effective. I know the president and I know his heart on this. And I know that he’s ready to do what needs to be done to get this implemented the right way.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, my question is, what’s the holdup? The reporting is that there’s disagreement inside the Trump administration about how much resources, how many funds to put into this.

What is the holdup?

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE: Well, there always will be debate and discussion among the president’s staff, depending upon their point of view and what areas they’re responsible for.

Here’s where there is no indecision the president of the United States has said very clearly that we’re going to spend substantial resources to deal with this problem. He has said it to me personally. He’s said it to other members of the commission. And most importantly, he’s said it publicly to the American people in August.

And so I think what they’re doing now is twofold. One is to make sure, as I said before, it’s done efficiently and effectively, so that we do see some lessening of the human loss as quickly as we possibly can.

And, secondly, to be fair, Judy, we have had two major national emergencies intervene since August with Hurricane Harvey and now Hurricane Irma. And so, you know, the administration is focused on making sure that’s dealt with, and they’re also on a parallel track working on making sure that we efficiently and effectively implement the recommendations in the interim report of the commission.

I’m absolutely committed to that. I’m committed to urging the president to move as quickly as possible. And he’s told me that’s exactly what he’s instructed his staff to do.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Two other quick things I want to ask you about, Governor. One is, we know you were, as you mentioned, at the White House last week. You were there meeting with the president the day after he cut — struck that deal with Democratic congressional leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi over the debt limit, spending on Hurricane Harvey.

You were there to talk about this project, this tunnel between New York and New Jersey, among other things. There were Democrats in that meeting.

Is it your sense the president is going to be doing more deals like that with Democrats?

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE: It is my sense, Judy, that what the president wants is to get things done for the American people.

And I don’t think he, quite frankly, cares whether he gets those things done with Republican members of Congress, Democratic members of Congress, or both. But what I believe he wants to see happen is accomplishments on major issues on behalf of the American people.

And whether that’s on infrastructure, as we were discussing with him on Thursday and the Gateway Tunnel project, whether that’s on tax reform, which we need to do to further grow this economy, or whether it’s on health care, the president will work hard with anyone of good will to get something done.

He showed that with Hurricane Harvey by working with Senator Schumer and Congresswoman Pelosi and other Republicans to get that done. And, listen, I have always known Donald Trump — I have known him for 15 years — to be a person who cares most about results.

And I think that’s what the actions of last week showed the American people. And my guess is, they’re encouraged by it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Governor, you’re talking about the president. You know him well. You played a big role in his campaign. You were not asked to be part of the administration.

I want to ask you about something Steve Bannon, who was the president’s former chief strategist, said in an interview over the weekend with Charlie Rose. Charlie asked him about the “Access Hollywood” tape involving its former anchor Billy Bush, when the president made some comments that were interpreted by many to be beyond inappropriate.

You were critical of those. But here’s what Steve Bannon had to say. Here’s just a quick bit of that exchange.

STEPHEN BANNON, Former Chief White House Strategist: Billy Bush, Saturday, to me, is a litmus test. It is a litmus test. When you side with him, you have to side with him. And that’s what Billy Bush weekend showed me.

CHARLIE ROSE: You took names on Billy Bush Sunday, didn’t you?

STEPHEN BANNON: I did. I got a — I got — I’m Irish. I got to get my black book, and I got them.

Christie, because of Billy Bush weekend, wasn’t looked at for a Cabinet position.

CHARLIE ROSE: He wasn’t there for you on Billy Bush weekend, so, therefore, he doesn’t get a Cabinet position?

STEPHEN BANNON: I told him, the plane leaves at 11:00 in the morning. If you’re on the plane, you’re on the team.

Didn’t make the plane.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Governor, was it your — what you said, your unwillingness to stand up for the president after that “Access Hollywood” tape, do you think that’s what shut you out of the Trump administration?

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE: Well, a few things on this.

First is that that conversation that Mr. Bannon references in his interview never happened. Never had any conversations with him. I didn’t need to convey those kind of feelings to staffers.

I was speaking to the principal, to the man who’s now president of the United States. Secondly, I was there the whole Billy Bush weekend. I was there during debate prep, leading debate prep for the second debate both on Friday and Saturday. And, by the way, if I was off the team, then why did I lead debate prep for the third debate?

Third, this I was offered Cabinet positions by this president. It’s been widely reported and it’s true that I was offered Cabinet positions that I turned down.

So I suspect this little black book that Mr. Bannon is talking about, the only one who read that black book was Mr. Bannon himself. I know that no one else cared about it. And now that he’s been fired, no one is going to really care about anything else Steve Bannon has to say.

WATCH: Gov. Chris Christie: Steve Bannon conversation ‘never happened’

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you stand by your views of the president’s comments in that “Access Hollywood” tape?

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE: Sure.

And I — most importantly, and the reason the president and I have been friends 15 years, and the reason that we both value each other’s friendship is that we speak the truth to each other.

On that weekend, I spoke the truth directly to the president of the United States. And I didn’t need to go on the air or do it publicly or to self-aggrandize myself now, as, you know, Mr. Bannon is doing by giving a “60 Minutes” interview.

This, I suspect, is his last 15 minutes of fame. And that’s fine. I hope he enjoys it.

My intent is, as it’s always been, not as somebody who was just Donald Trump’s friend for a year, as Mr. Bannon was, but for somebody like me, who’s been his friend for 15 years, I want him to be a successful president first and foremost for this country, secondly, because I like him personally, and, third, because I believe that the country will benefit ultimately if Republican policies on tax reform and on infrastructure are put into place to make this country bigger, better and stronger.

And, you know, so, listen, you know me, Judy. I have very broad shoulders, and I have had much tougher characters than Steve Bannon lie about me in the past. I just keep soldiering on and moving forward, and I will always be here for the president to tell him the truth, which is exactly what I have always done and why we’re still friends and why I was at the White House Thursday, while Steve Bannon was off doing an interview with “60 Minutes.”

JUDY WOODRUFF: Chris Christie, the governor of the state of New Jersey, thank you very much.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE: Judy, thanks for the time. Always a pleasure.

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