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NBC "Meet the Press" - Transcript

Interview

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Governor Christie, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R-NJ): Happy to be back, David.

MR. GREGORY: Here, a top supporter of Governor Romney. Let me pick up on the news here. The governor made a decision to release his tax records. Should he go back further than that? Will he go back further than that?

GOV. CHRISTIE: Now listen, I think what people want to see is get a look into how Governor Romney has made his money, how much he's made and look at his tax returns. I think that's perfectly appropriate and I think you'll get a good view of that both in the most--two most recent years, in 2010 and 2011. And I think he's done a good job by making the decision this morning to put them out and I'm happy he's doing it.

MR. GREGORY: He waited. It made for a pretty bad week. You had advised him earlier in the week to do it sooner. I want to show something from the debate this week when he sort of justified why it was he didn't want to release more and release more sooner than when he planned to last April.

GOV. CHRISTIE: Sure.

MR. GREGORY: This is what he said.

(Videotape, Thursday)

FMR. GOV. ROMNEY: I want to make sure that I beat President Obama and every time we release things drip by drip, the Democrats go out with another array of attacks.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: Is there something in the tax returns that will hurt Governor Romney?

GOV. CHRISTIE: I don't believe so, no. And I think, listen, at the end of the day, you know, David, even in a, even in a standard tax return, adversaries like the Obama White House will try to pick it apart and make something bad about the success that Governor Romney's had in his life. So I'm sure that's what he was concerned about. But listen, I made my position really clear both publicly and to Governor Romney that I think he should release the returns. He's releasing them. And so, you know, now it's time to move on. I think what the American people are going to see is someone who's been extraordinarily successful in his life and I don't think the American people want a failure as president. I think they like somebody who's succeeded in whatever they've tried to do. And I think that's what you're going to see with Governor Romney.

MR. GREGORY: What is the meaning of last night?

GOV. CHRISTIE: Listen, it's clearly disappointing. I--you know, I'm not going to say that last night was somehow good news for the Romney campaign. Listen, we had a bad week as a campaign and a bad result last night. So, you pick yourself up, you dust yourself off and you get to Florida and you fight. And I still believe that Governor Romney's going to win in Florida on the 31st and that he's going to return to Florida in August as the Republican nominee.

MR. GREGORY: There's a couple of big issues connecting to conservatives in the party, the grass roots of the party, and what Speaker Gingrich says, which is this anger in the party. I want to show something that you discussed with Oprah Winfrey on her program as a liability for Governor Romney and have you talk about it a little bit more.

(Videotape, last Sunday)

GOV. CHRISTIE: I have a real sense that Governor Romney has a real depth of knowledge and experience and understanding about government and business, but he doesn't really communicate it all that well. I think people have a hard time connecting at times wit him. And so his challenge is going to be how to connect with people, how to make them feel what I do believe he feels inside.

MS. OPRAH WINFREY: Mm-hmm.

GOV. CHRISTIE: Which is he wants to do great things for the country.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: What do you attribute that lack of connection to?

GOV. CHRISTIE: Listen, he's a very reserved guy. And I think everybody comes with a different personality. I'm obviously not reserved, he's very reserved. Everyone can have success in politics with different personalities and every candidate, David, has liabilities. I mean, you know, the fact of the matter is the president's liability is he's got a lousy record for the last three years that he's not going to be able to defend or run on, so he's going to have to attack Mitt Romney. The speaker, and I heard his comments just now, a strategic adviser, that is the oldest Washington dodge in the book. That's because he didn't want to register as a lobbyist.

MR. GREGORY: You're talking about when he worked for Freddie Mac.

GOV. CHRISTIE: Of course. He got paid $1.6 million. First, he said he was a historian, now he's a strategic adviser. I mean, let's be serious. It's the oldest dodge in the book. He was using his influence that he obtained in public office to try to help them. That's why they paid him $1.6 million. He can call it whatever he wants to call it, but that's what it is. So every candidate will have liabilities. And what I was saying to Oprah in that interview was it's the challenge for Governor Romney. And as campaigns evolve, people meet those challenges. And I believe Mitt Romney will meet that challenge and he will connect.

MR. GREGORY: So you come back, though, to connection with conservatives. What, in your judgment, is Mitt Romney's greatest contribution to the conservative cause?

GOV. CHRISTIE: Well, listen, this is a guy who has shown that the American free enterprise system can work and can work to create jobs across America. You look at places like Staples and Sports Authority, everybody who goes to work at those places today has Mitt Romney to thank for it. And he's going to know how to do that as president, to get government out of the way, to be able to let the private sector create those jobs that we so desperately need and haven't had in the Obama administration. That's his greatest contribution to the conservative movement, to show that the American free enterprise system, which is under attack by the Obama administration, does work for people--for real people, middle class people. Because let me tell you, the people going to work at Sports Authority and Staples today, David, those aren't the elite. Those are middle class Americans who are using those jobs to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads and send their kids to college. Let the president attack that.

MR. GREGORY: When, when I moderated the debate in, in New Hampshire, I asked the candidates on the stage why shouldn't Mitt Romney be the nominee? What's disqualifying about his record? So now I ask you as a member of the establishment, right...

GOV. CHRISTIE: Uh-huh.

MR. GREGORY: ...why shouldn't Newt Gingrich be the nominee of this party? What's disqualifying about his record?

GOV. CHRISTIE: Well, listen, the fact of the matter is from my perspective, not as a member of the establishment, David, but as a governor, I know that we don't need another legislator in the Oval Office. We've had one for the last three years who doesn't have the first idea of how to use executive authority or how to bring Congress together. We've had the worst years of Congress in my lifetime because this president refuses to get in the room, roll up his sleeves and get the hard work done. We don't need another legislator in the Oval Office who does not know how to use executive authority. We need an executive, someone who both in private sector and as a governor understands how to bring people together and use executive power. The speaker simple doesn't have that experience.

MR. GREGORY: You've been more pointed, though.

GOV. CHRISTIE: He's never run anything.

MR. GREGORY: You've been more pointed when you talk about in favor of Governor Romney. You say he will never embarrass you. Do you think Newt Gingrich will embarrass the party?

GOV. CHRISTIE: I think Newt Gingrich has embarrassed the party over time. Whether he'll do it again in the future, I don't know. But Governor Romney never has.

MR. GREGORY: You say he's embarrassed the party. How and where do you worry he might do it again that makes him unelectable?

GOV. CHRISTIE: Well, listen, David, we all know the record. I mean, he was run out of the speakership by his own party. He was fined $300,000 for ethics violations. This is a guy who's had a very difficult political career at times and has been an embarrassment for the party. You remember these times, you were here. So the fact of the matter is, I don't need to regale the country with that entire list again except to say this. I'm not saying he will do it again in the future, but sometimes past is prologue.

MR. GREGORY: Well, so, is this an issue that Governor Romney now makes more strongly? Is character an issue in this campaign?

GOV. CHRISTIE: I'm not talking about character. I'm talking about how you conducted yourself in office and what that record indicates. I'm not talking about the speaker's character. I take him at his word that he's a changed person. And I'm not attacking him on that, on that basic. I'm saying this is a guy who's never run anything, and never having run anything, I don't think on the job training should be the presidency of the United States. I've great respect for what he's done for our party. He's done some great things for our party over the years, and for our country. But the fact of the matter is, I don't believe his record stacks up to Governor Romney's record in that regard.

MR. GREGORY: What about this electability question? I mean, you heard what, what, what I challenged Speaker Gingrich with, which is there is this view in the party that if Gingrich keeps on going and if he consolidates support among conservatives, this is the best news for President Obama possible. Is that your view?

GOV. CHRISTIE: Well, my view is the worst news possible for President Obama is a Romney candidacy because Governor Romney will show with the executive experience he has, with the record he created in Massachusetts, and with the values he's articulating, has been articulating as a candidate for the last number of years, the best contrast we can have to President Obama. So I think Governor Romney would be the worst news for the Obama White House.

MR. GREGORY: But do you think that a candidate, a nominee Gingrich could also beat President Obama?

GOV. CHRISTIE: Listen, could he? Sure.

MR. GREGORY: You don't sound as convincing, though. Certainly not about Romney, whom you support. But...

GOV. CHRISTIE: What, I answered, I answered your question.

MR. GREGORY: But you think he could?

GOV. CHRISTIE: Sure.

MR. GREGORY: I want to ask you something that I don't think has come up in this race so far, and that is whether you would consider being on the Romney ticket as, as a VP. You've answered this a bunch of different times, but I want to ask it a slightly different way. You, you have said that you didn't feel that you were ready to be president right now.

GOV. CHRISTIE: Right.

MR. GREGORY: Would you be ready to be vice president? Would you have to be ready to be president if you were going to accept a slot on the ticket?

GOV. CHRISTIE: Sure. Hey, listen, everybody's misunderstood what I meant about saying being ready for president. I meant that, you know, being ready to leave the job that I had and being ready to run for president of the United States with all that entails. I didn't want to do, didn't feel ready to do it, and I think you have to be absolutely committed and ready to do that. Now as for the vice presidency, let me say again, I want to be governor of New Jersey. I ran to be governor of New Jersey. I absolutely believe that come November 2012 I'm going to be governor of New Jersey and not in any other office. The fact of the matter is, if Governor Romney, who's going to be our nominee, picked up the phone and called me to talk about this, I love my country enough and I love my party enough to listen, but in the end, David, if you were a betting guy--and I know you are, I know you are, David. If you're a betting guy, you should bet Chris Christie being the governor of New Jersey in November 2012.

MR. GREGORY: But you said once, who would want me as a number two?

GOV. CHRISTIE: Well, I still feel that way.

MR. GREGORY: But you'd be a good vice president, wouldn't you?

GOV. CHRISTIE: Oh, listen, I think that certain personalities...

MR. GREGORY: Not to appeal to your ego or anything.

GOV. CHRISTIE: No, listen...

MR. GREGORY: I'm saying you'd be wonderful, wouldn't you?

GOV. CHRISTIE: Listen, I think certain personalities are suited for jobs better than others. And I don't know that I'm the guy to stand behind, three feet behind somebody and nod my head. It's not necessarily in my character. But again, you know, you have to balance that against your love for your country and your love for your party and all the rest of those things. But you know what? There's one person who gets to decide that question. That's the nominee of our party. And if I'm--if I'm approached I will listen. But my inclination, to make it very clear, is I want to stay governor of the state of New Jersey. But I think it's wrong to foreclose that and to foreclose the nominee of our party from coming and talking to you about it because they may have a whole different view than I do and maybe they can convince me of something different.

MR. GREGORY: I want to ask you about the State of the Union and also about New Jersey. First, on the State of the Union, what do you think the president could say that would surprise Republicans and galvanize Republicans to try to work with him on something substantial, even though it's an election year?

GOV. CHRISTIE: He could finally embrace Simpson-Bowles. He asked for it, he put it on the shelf for purely political reasons, he showed political cowardice by doing it, and an absolute fear of confronting the big issues in our country. And I think if he came out on Tuesday and said, "You know what, I was wrong to put Simpson-Bowles on the shelf. I should take it off the shelf, I'm going to send it to the Congress and I want to have a vigorous debate and discussion about really tackling debt and deficit in our country in an honest and forthright way, the way Senator Simpson and Mr. Bowles suggested." It's not that I agree with every part of Simpson-Bowles, David, but it is a realistic plan that merits consideration and discussion. He never did it. That would surprise the nation if he did it, and I think it would show great leadership if the president was willing to do it.

MR. GREGORY: Where have Republicans been culpable for the paralysis in Washington? You've spoke about the president. What about...

GOV. CHRISTIE: I've spoken about both, David.

MR. GREGORY: ...what, what role do Republicans play?

GOV. CHRISTIE: Listen, you know, and I've said this before. I, I think that, that people are spending too much time talking at each other and not talking with each other. Look at New Jersey. Now in New Jersey I have a Democratic legislature. They say some of the most unspeakable things about me publicly. On the other hand, though, I do not take that personally. I still bring them in the room. We sit down, we talk and we resolve things because we're put in these jobs to accomplish things, not just to posture and pose. And so my point to Republicans has been to you've got to force those conversations. Now if the president's not interested in having them, and if he's not interested in developing those relationships, then there's little the Republicans can do. But to the extent that we've contributed to not having those relationships happen, then there's a culpability there.

MR. GREGORY: You talked about the State of the State and how you see New, New Jersey in the future. One of the things we've talked about at this table before, remember the, the, the federal state tunnel project which you were opposed to, you said, "Look, we're broke in New Jersey." And now you're calling for a 10 percent cut in income tax, would cost the state $300 million a year over three years. Why can you afford that?

GOV. CHRISTIE: Well, because first of all the tunnel project was going to cost us an additional 8 billion, so we still don't have that money to do it. It was a bad plan. And what we see is happening now is the federal government, New York, New Jersey, are working together to come up with another plan that will be more equitably shared by all the parties, not 75 percent of, 70 percent of the cost being on New Jersey. But the reason we need to cut taxes is think about what I inherited, David. I came in. We had $13 billion in deficits. We had had 115 tax and fee increases in the eight years before I became governor. We were ranked in 50th tax climate in the country and the worst business environment in America. In two years, we've balanced those budgets and brought ourselves to balance without any tax increases through very difficult, aggressive cuts. And now what I'm saying is it's time for the people to get some of their money back. Done reasonably, 10 percent cut phased in over three years, so you could do it reasonably and not bust the budget.

Think about this, David, in New Jersey, the people of New Jersey are going to know for the next three years every year their taxes are going to go down. If I had told you that when I came here the first time, you would have told me I was nuts. But we did it because of hard work and sticking to our principles and working together with Democrats. I think we're going to be able to do it again.

MR. GREGORY: Do the New Jersey Giants win today?

GOV. CHRISTIE: Yes. You bet they do.

MR. GREGORY: You didn't even flinch. You just totally think that they should be the New Jersey Giants.

GOV. CHRISTIE: Of course they are. Listen, David, the only thing New York about the Giants in the NY in their helmet. They train in New Jersey, they play in New Jersey, and most of their players live in New Jersey. And so the New Jersey Giants are going to have a great game today. Sorry to my friends in San Francisco. It's going to be a big win for the Giants today and on to the Super Bowl in New, in Indianapolis.

MR. GREGORY: All right. Well, I'll be watching for sure. I can tell you that.

GOV. CHRISTIE: I've got a bet on it, don't you, David?

MR. GREGORY: Governor, thanks very much.

GOV. CHRISTIE: Come on, tell me the truth.

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