BUZZARDS BAY, Mass. — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie does not mince words.
Holding a press conference in Trenton on Wednesday to voice his displeasure at Congress’s refusal to approve a $60 billion package for victims of Superstorm Sandy, he could barely contain his rage.
“One group is to blame,” he said, “the House Majority, and its speaker, John Boehner … [this] is why the American people hate Congress.”
Late Tuesday night, Boehner announced that the 112th Congress would adjourn without voting on a massive relief bill to help the most heavily stricken states — mainly New York and New Jersey — rebuild from the catastrophic storm that hit the East Coast just one week before the Nov. 6 presidential election.
Christie blasted the “toxic internal politics” of the House Republicans for the failure of the bill, which, he said, had fallen victim to partisan warfare.
“This is not a Republican or Democratic issue," he said. "We respond to innocent victims of natural disasters not as Republicans or Democrats, but as Americans — or at least we did until last night."
Citing the “callous indifference” of Congress to the suffering of Sandy’s victims, Christie professed himself “disgusted” with the “selfishness” and “duplicity” of Washington’s politicians.
"Shame on you, shame on Congress," he said.
It was quite a performance, and one unlikely to improve Christie’s standing within his own party. The Republican governor was a tireless supporter of conservative candidates in the November election, and, in fact, had been a prominent surrogate for the Republican presidential contender, Mitt Romney. Christie delivered the keynote address at the Republican National Convention in Tampa in August, and has been looked upon as a possible, even likely, candidate for the top job in 2016.
Christie had been scathing in his criticism of President Barack Obama, who, he once said, was like “a man in a dark room, hands against the wall, clutching for the light switch of leadership, and he just can’t find it.”
But when the Jersey Shore was all but devastated when Sandy hit on Oct. 29, Christie began to sing a different tune. He praised the president for his leadership, and even did a joint tour of the hardest-hit areas with Obama while Romney was sidelined and struggling for relevancy.
The turnaround prompted late night political comedian Jon Stewart to quip “I guess [Obama] found the f-ing light switch.”
Even before Obama’s comfortable win over his challenger, some were predicting that Christie might run into trouble down the line.
On NPR’s “The Takeaway” Wednesday morning, Bob Hennelly, contributing editor for politics and investigations for WNYC, hinted that Christie’s chickens just might be coming home to roost (listen below).
“I can’t help but wonder of this isn’t a bit of payback,” said Hennelly, citing Christie’s “11th-hour” support for the president, which, he said, had left some Republicans “smarting.”
Christie himself dismissed the suggestion at his press conference, saying, “this isn’t about me.”
The angry governor said he had received no “substantive, credible explanation” for the House’s move, so he was forced to conclude that it was all politics.
“The American people are tired of the palace intrigue and political partisanship of this Congress,” he said. “[They] place one-upmanship ahead of the lives of the people who sent them to Washington, DC, in the first place.”
Christie’s tantrum is unlikely to do much good in the short term — the bill will have to be reintroduced through the new Senate before it comes up for a vote in the 113th Congress. While Boehner has said he is committed to getting the bill passed in January, Christie is unforgiving.
“Just ask those people in Toms River if two weeks will make a difference,” he said, referring to the hard-hit Toms River Township on the Jersey Shore.
In staging his blistering press conference, the burly governor has burnished his reputation for tough talk while venting his ire on a spent force — the 112th Congress was one of the least popular in history.
But it remains to be seen whether Christie has put paid to his own political ambitions by antagonizing powerful forces within the GOP.
The governor professes not to worry about such trifles. He has a job to do, he said, and politics would not keep him from doing his duty.
“I have always put the people of New Jersey and my oath ahead of petty partisanship,” he said. “But last night the House of Representatives failed in that most basic test of public service.”
Christie was withering in his disdain for the lawmakers, while praising his fellow governor, Andrew Cuomo of New York (a Democrat), for his tireless work to get relief for his state.
“Unlike people in Congress, we have real responsibilities,” he said.