Christie’s apology just the first step to political recovery
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie shakes hands with residents Thursday in Fort Lee, New Jersey. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images
During his marathon mea culpa Thursday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie shed his usual swagger for contrition, admitting he was “embarrassed and humiliated” by the revelations that one of his top aides allegedly played a role in orchestrating lane closures last September that snarled traffic in an apparent act of political retribution.
“I’m heartbroken about it, and I’m incredibly disappointed,” Christie told reporters during the nearly two-hour news conference in Trenton. “I don’t think I’ve gotten to the angry stage yet, but I’m sure I’ll get there.”
The appearance by Christie followed the disclosure of documents on Wednesday showing that Christie’s deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, had emailed Port Authority official David Wildstein, calling for access roads from Fort Lee, N.J., to the George Washington Bridge to be closed. The exchange suggested the move was in retaliation for the town’s Democratic mayor, Mark Sokolich, declining to endorse Christie’s re-election bid last year.
“It’s time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” Kelly wrote. “Got it,” Wildstein replied.
Wildstein and another Port Authority official, Bill Baroni, stepped down in December amid mounting questions over the decision to close the lanes. Christie announced Thursday that Kelly had been dismissed.
The disclosure of emails also prompted Christie to break ties with his former campaign manager, Bill Stepien, who documents showed mocking Fort Lee residents for the traffic problems caused by the road closures. Christie said that Stepien had been instructed to withdraw as a candidate for Republican Party chairman in New Jersey, and end his consulting work with the Republican Governors Association, which Christie now chairs.
“What he told me at the time is not contradicted by the emails, but the emails and the coloring character of the emails … have led me to conclude that I don’t have confidence in his judgment any longer,” Christie said.
The Washington Post’s Matea Gold and Robert Costa look at the signal Christie was sending with the staff shakeup:
Christie’s decision to oust Stepien and another top adviser implicated in the burgeoning scandal over George Washington Bridge lane closures demonstrated the blunt force that Christie is willing to use to contain a crisis, even if it means exiling members of his innermost circle.
It also showed how personal politics is for the governor. Christie expressed far more anger Thursday about his aides lying to him than about how they abused their power to cause days of traffic jams.
The removal of Stepien, in particular, stunned some New Jersey political insiders, who said the strategist has provided important counsel to Christie on both politics and policy.
During Thursday’s news conference, Christie suggested the quick response on his part was proof he took the episode seriously.
“I think that’s pretty swift action given that I really yesterday was blindsided by this. I’m not happy I was blindsided. I’m not proud I was blindsided,” he said.
At the same time, Christie also declared that he had no involvement with the ordering of the road closures, and brushed aside a question about whether he thought about stepping down as governor.
“That’s a crazy question, man. I mean, I’m telling you: I had nothing to do with this. And so, you know, no. I never gave any thought to doing that at all, nor would I,” Christie said. “I work hard at this job, and it’s incredibly disappointing to have people let you down this way. I’m incredibly loyal to my people and I expect in return their honesty and their candor and their loyalty, and I didn’t get it.”
Christie’s willingness to stand and face the barrage of questions should manage to help him get past the initial uproar over the bridge controversy, but it also means that more intense scrutiny will follow, as he continues to moves toward a potential GOP presidential bid in 2016.
The governor referred to the presidential chatter at this point as “hysteria,” and told reporters that he was not focused on the White House. “I am not preoccupied with that job; I’m preoccupied with this one. And as you can tell, I have plenty to do, so it’s not like I got some spare time to spend.”
If Christie is to remain a top contender for the Republican Party’s nomination in 2016, the path to recovery will certainly start at home.
Kwame Holman reported on the New Jersey governor’s response to the controversy on Thursday’s NewsHour.
And Stu Rothenberg of the Rothenberg Political Report and Michael Scherer of Time magazine joined Gwen Ifill to discuss Christie’s political future in the wake of the scandal.
- A bill to extend unemployment benefits stalled in the Senate Thursday due to a dispute over amendments.
- House Speaker John Boehner called for the president to take “a more active role” in Iraq as violence continues between Iraqi forces and al-Qaeda militants.
- The New York Times’ Jonathan Martin reports that former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie is readying a challenge to Democratic Sen. Mark Warner in Virginia this year.
- The House of Representatives is set to vote on a bill addressing security problems for Healthcare.gov Friday. The bill would “require the Department of Health and Human Services to notify affected users of any potential breach on a state or federal exchange within two business days.”
- The president established five “promise zones” Thursday to encourage investment in struggling communities.
- A Gallup poll released Friday shows that while more Americans continue to identify as conservative, the number of those identifying as liberal has reached its highest level. “These data confirm the tendency for Americans who identify with the two major parties to be more ideologically homogeneous than was the case in the past,” wrote Gallup’s Jeffrey Jones.
- The Huffington Post’s Ryan Grim reports on rising tensions between the White House and Senate Democrats over sanctions against Iran.
- For the first time ever, a majority of members of Congress are millionaires, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.
- A divorce mediator is headed to Washington to bring Republicans and Democrats back together again.
- Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin and Huffington Post’s Ryan Grim joined Judy Woodruff to discuss the heroin crisis in Vermont and the drug’s resurgence throughout the country.
- The Washington Post’s Sarah Kliff joined the NewsHour for an update on health care enrollment.
- In Making Sen$e, Shawn Fremstad of the Center for Economic Policy and Research writes about the bipartisan support for the War on Poverty.
- Keep an eye on the Rundown blog for breaking news throughout the day, our home page for show segments, and follow @NewsHour for the latest.
In a gesture of solidarity with the unemployed, the Senate will not be working on Friday.
— Binyamin Appelbaum (@BCAppelbaum) January 9, 2014
My commute this morning. Damn you Chris Christie! pic.twitter.com/jNTITfRe8a
— BuzzFeed Benny (@bennyjohnson) January 9, 2014
Halperin and Heilman’s next book: “Lane Change”
— Sam Stein (@samsteinhp) January 9, 2014
If Chris Christie had blocked people from entering New Jersey he’d be a hero.
— Conan O’Brien (@ConanOBrien) January 9, 2014
Breaking: Ron Johnson is the 13th Doctor pic.twitter.com/zJ60WbrQBG
— Dorsey Shaw (@dorseyshaw) January 9, 2014
— pourmecoffee (@pourmecoffee) January 9, 2014
— Glenn Thrush (@GlennThrush) January 9, 2014
Katelyn Polantz and Aileen Graef contributed to this report.
For more political coverage, visit our politics page.
Sign up here to receive the Morning Line in your inbox every morning.
Questions or comments? Email Terence Burlij at tburlij-at-newshour-dot-org.
Follow the politics team on Twitter: