Yesterday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie engaged me on Twitter for much of the day, defending his attack on Congress for delaying relief to victims of Hurricane Sandy, and claiming, wrongly and bizarrely, that “All the pork was stripped out of the bill prior to passage at the insistence of Republicans, myself included.”
On January 2, Christie launched an infamous attack on Congress, singling out “the House majority, and their Speaker, Rep. John Boehner (R-OH)” for blame when the House declined to take up the Sandy relief bill that had come back from the Senate. The Senate bill included “pork” and wasteful spending that had nothing to do with Sandy.
House Republicans, in the midst of negotiations over the “fiscal cliff,” balked at passing $60 billion in new spending, little of which was directly aimed at Sandy victims and none of which was offset by cuts elsewhere. The media and the left portrayed Republicans as heartless, ignoring legitimate concerns about corruption and waste.
Gov. Christie was understandably outraged by the delay. But rather than focus his anger on the politicians of both parties–particularly in the Democrat-controlled Senate–who had exploited the victims for their own purposes, he singled out his own party, perhaps in an attempt to appease Democrats in his largely blue state.
It was pure opportunism–good local politics, bad national politics, and poor leadership overall. Instead of acknowledging that concerns over excessive spending in the Sandy relief bill were legitimate, Christie called those who raised concerns about pork “know-nothings” and implied they were using the issue for political gain.
I had often, in the past, been prepared to give Christie the benefit of the doubt. In one of the most poorly conceived articles I have ever written, I suggested that Christie’s effusive embrace of President Barack Obama after Sandy was a sign that Mitt Romney was on the road to victory, and the GOP could afford magnanimity. In retrospect, Christie was just being himself: temperamental, and opportunistic.
Fast forward to this week , when Christie used the six-month anniversary of the storm to renew his attacks on Congress. This time, I called him out, suggesting that he was dismissing legitimate concerns at the time about pork in the relief bill.
Christie’s first defense–that “all the pork” in the bill had been removed–is demonstrably untrue. But he doubled down, suggesting (for the second time, this time in ALL CAPS) that I was “DEAD WRONG” and insisting that an amendment that was to be offered by Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) had removed the pork.
Yet an examination of the text of the amendment that Frelinghuysen ultimately offered in the next Congress reveals most of the same wasteful, unrelated spending that critics had complained about. Christie appears to be splitting hair, referring to “pork” in the strictest, procedural sense to mean earmarks attached to the bill.
The “pork” that everyone was complaining about–as Christie knew, or ought to have known–was not in the earmarks but in the text of the legislation itself, which included money for unrelated Amtrak infrastructure, national wildlife refuges, the Smithsonian Institution, and so on, all of which was wrongly defined as “emergency.”
Christie’s claim that “all the pork” was removed from the bill–whether the Senate bill that he urged the House to pass, or the Frelinghuysen amendment that he now says he was talking about–does not pass the laugh test. He is wrong on the issue, though he is clearly right that Congress as a whole handled Sandy disgracefully.
What is less clear is why a governor who is expected to coast to re-election, and who enjoys high approval among the voters of his state, feels the need to spend much of his day on Twitter defending himself, or to attack his own party gratuitously, reinforcing a left-wing media meme of heartlessness that he knows to be false.
Update: In related news, Christie used the term “bullshit” in a town hall meeting yesterday as he dismissed homeowners’ concerns about a federal and state project to create protective sand dunes along the coastline. He also launched his first ad of his re-election campaign, a $1.2 buy that stresses bipartisanship in the wake of Sandy.
This article was originally posted under the headline, “Thin-Skinned Christie Thick on Sandy Pork Issue”