The Corner

‘Put Up or Shut Up’: Christie Takes on Entitlements, Obama, and the House GOP

New Jersey governor Chris Christie said today he believed President Obama was “missing an historic opportunity” “to do the big things” that will right the course of the country for the next generation.

“I look at what’s happening in Washington right now and I’m worried,” Christie told an audience at the American Enterprise Institute, after an introduction from Henry Olsen that described him as “the most consequential governor of New Jersey in at least 100 years.” He said the president’s speech in Arizona had encouraged him that Obama had the momentum to deliver a State of the Union address that would tackle difficult issues. He even “feared as a Republican” that the president would use the speech to “cement reelection.”

“What I was looking for that night was for my president to stand up there and challenge me,” Christie said. Instead, Obama focused on “investments” (Christie used air quotes) like high-speed rail and electric cars, calling them “the big things” (a phrase, Christie noted, that he had used in his own State of the State speech two weeks prior).

“Ladies and gentlemen, that is the candy of American politics. That’s not the big things,” Christie said.

The big things, according to Christie, are entitlements: Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. He slammed the president for playing chicken with congressional Republicans on much-needed reforms, and challenged the notion that Social Security remains a “third rail” in American politics.

“We’re going to have to raise the retirement age,” Christie said. “Ho! I just said it, and I’m still standing here. I didn’t vaporize into the carpet.”

“The world has changed,” he said, and though leaders would face risks for taking on popular spending programs, they would also be “rewarded for courage,” pointing to his own improving popularity numbers as evidence.

But Christie also said that “unlike some others,” he did not want to see the president fail, and that he believes Obama has time to do the right thing. Nor did the governor spare Republicans. He called out, in particular, the GOP challengers from around the country he campaigned for last year.

Saying that he had staked his “reputation” on them, he warned them that it is “put-up-or-shut-up time.”

“If people who I campaigned for don’t stand up and do the right thing [on entitlements], the next time they’ll see me in their district is with my arm around their primary opponent.”#more#

He also offered implicit support for the Republican plan to reduce non-defense discretionary spending by $100 billion this year. Drawing from his own experience cutting salutary but expensive programs in New Jersey, he said the focus in Washington should be on what’s “necessary,” not what’s desirable “in the abstract.”

“You’ll have folks tell you that every bit of federal spending is laudatory and necessary. It’s not.”

Christie had some advice for reformers in Washington and across the country on how to tackle obstruction. Relating the story of his own epic budget battle with New Jersey’s Democratic legislature, Christie contrasted his reaction to the threat of a government shutdown with that of his predecessor, Jon Corzine. Corzine, a Democrat, had shown reporters a cot in the governor’s office, on which he intended to sleep until the crisis over (how much to raise) the state sales tax was resolved.

When Democrats threatened Christie with a government shutdown if he vetoed an income-tax hike they favored, Christie said, he told them: “Take a look at me, you think I’m sleeping on a cot?”

“If you want to shut down the government, that’s fine,” Christie reportedly told Democratic leaders in the legislature. “I’m gonna get in those black SUVs, go to the governor’s residence, go upstairs, open a beer, order a pizza, and watch the Mets.” Christie’s hard-line tactics worked, and the state’s budget — sans the tax hike — was passed two days early.

He offered praise for his counterpart across the Hudson River, newly elected New York governor Andrew Cuomo, saying that the similar paths taken by a Republican in a blue state and “the son of a liberal icon” prove “that these problems and issues are not partisan.” “For God’s sake, even Jerry Brown” is talking about tackling public-sector compensation, Christie said.

After his speech, largely delivered off-the-cuff, Christie took questions from the audience. The very first was the umpteenth iteration of “will you run in 2012.” Christie joked that he had already threatened to commit suicide to prove he wasn’t interested in running, and that now he might actually have to follow through.

“I’m not stupid, I see the opportunity,” Christie added, but said seeing opening is not a sufficient reason to run.

He also answered a question about Obamacare, clarifying that his state hadn’t joined a Florida lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act for “fiscal” not “philosophical” reasons. “I don’t need to be hiring lawyers,” Christie said, to become just one of many states already testing the bill’s constitutionality. He also called for the Supreme Court to give Obamacare expedited review.


Daniel Foster — Daniel Foster is a former news editor of National Review Online.

Most Popular


What We’ve Learned about Jussie Smollett

It’s been a few weeks since March 26, when all charges against Jussie Smollett were dropped and the actor declared that his version of events had been proven correct. How’s that going? Smollett’s celebrity defenders have gone quiet. His publicists and lawyers are dodging reporters. The @StandwithJussie ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Lessons of the Mueller Probe

Editor’s Note: The following is the written testimony submitted by Mr. McCarthy in connection with a hearing earlier today before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on the Mueller Report (specifically, the first volume of the report, which addresses Russia’s interference in the 2016 ... Read More

Kamala Harris Runs for Queen

I’m going to let you in on a secret about the 2020 presidential contest: Unless unforeseen circumstances lead to a true wave election, the legislative stakes will be extremely low. The odds are heavily stacked against Democrats’ retaking the Senate, and that means that even if a Democrat wins the White House, ... Read More

Why Are the Western Middle Classes So Angry?

What is going on with the unending Brexit drama, the aftershocks of Donald Trump’s election, and the “yellow vests” protests in France? What drives the growing estrangement of southern and eastern Europe from the European Union establishment? What fuels the anti-EU themes of recent European elections and ... Read More
Energy & Environment

The Climate Trap for Democrats

The more the climate debate changes, the more it stays the same. Polls show that the public is worried about climate change, but that doesn’t mean that it is any more ready to bear any burden or pay any price to combat it. If President Donald Trump claws his way to victory again in Pennsylvania and the ... Read More
White House

Sarah Sanders to Resign at End of June

Sarah Huckabee Sanders will resign from her position as White House press secretary at the end of the month, President Trump announced on Twitter Thursday afternoon. Sanders, the daughter of former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, succeeded Sean ... Read More
Politics & Policy

But Why Is Guatemala Hungry?

I really, really don’t want to be on the “Nicolas Kristof Wrote Something Dumb” beat, but, Jiminy Cricket! Kristof has taken a trip to Guatemala, with a young woman from Arizona State University in tow. “My annual win-a-trip journey,” he writes. Reporting from Guatemala, he discovers that many ... Read More