TRENTON, N.J. (AP) – Gov. Chris Christie’s blunt talk has long been one of his hallmarks.
But Christie, who has verbally tangled with many, showed Wednesday he’s willing to aim his barbs at the highest echelons of his own party.
In a State House news conference, Christie blasted Republican U.S. House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio for delaying a vote on a $60 billion aid package for Superstorm Sandy recovery.
“Do your job and come through for the people of this country,” Christie pointedly said about Boehner.
Harsh criticism of Boehner by elected officials in New York and New Jersey turned into a bipartisan affair Wednesday. But it was Christie’s remarks that drew the most attention, both for what he said and his willingness, as a Republican with higher aspirations, to so forcefully take on Boehner and Congressional Republicans.
The bill “could not overcome the toxic internal politics of the House majority,” Christie said.
Under pressure, Boehner will schedule a vote Friday to fund $9 billion for the national flood insurance program. A vote on the remaining $51 billion will take place Jan. 15.
Even before word of the rescheduled votes came out, Christie said he could no longer trust such assurances.
“There is no reason for me at the moment to believe anything they tell me because they’ve been telling me stuff for weeks and they haven’t delivered,” Christie said.
Christie accused House Republicans of focusing on internal politics and “palace intrigue” instead of voting on the bill, which would financially assist states hit by the Oct. 29 storm. Sandy severely impacted New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
“There’s only one group to blame for the continued suffering of these innocent victims, the House majority and their speaker, John Boehner,” Christie said.
A former prosecutor who flirted with running for president, Christie significantly raised his national profile this year, positioning himself as a tough-talking, no-nonsense chief executive. He delivered the keynote speech at the Republican National Convention in Tampa and hopscotched around the country to campaign for Mitt Romney and Republican Congressional candidates.
But there has been little love lost of late between Christie and some members of his party. Before blasting Boehner, Christie drew the ire of some Republicans after touring the storm-damaged Jersey shore with President Barack Obama.
The two men embraced on the tarmac in Atlantic City days before the election and Christie effusively praised the president’s handling of the storm. Christie said his loyalty to the people of New Jersey trumped politics.
Christie is seeking re-election, saying he wants to see through the Sandy recovery, something that a failure to vote on the bill is tying up, he said, keeping people from rebuilding homes and businesses.
In a Republican Party trying to figure out what it stands for, Christie could be positioning himself as both a potential conservative candidate who is not beholden to Tea Party notions and a pragmatist who is willing to work across party lines to get the job done.
Should he plan to run for president in 2016, Christie’s stance could gain traction with an electorate that generally disdains Washington _ a stance that Christie drove home Wednesday.
“It’s why the American people hate Congress,” Christie said of the failure to vote on the Sandy bill.
Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University, said Christie’s attack is emblematic of a division emerging in the Republican party between conservative members calling for spending cuts wherever possible and others who think allocating money is necessary in certain cases.
“This is an example of another moment of him separating himself from a section of the GOP that is not very well-liked right now,” Zelizer said of Christie. “I don’t think it’s politics. I think it’s general frustration.”
Leo Quigley, whose house in New Jersey’s Little Ferry was damaged in the storm, said he’s glad that Christie so forcefully criticized Boehner.
“I think he’s right,” Quigley said. “Some people are living in bad circumstances right now because of this, and that’s to be blamed on the Congress.”
Gigi Liaguno-Dorr, whose bar, Jakeabob’s Bay, in Union Beach, was destroyed, said she and others in her blue-collar New Jersey town feel as though they’ve been ignored. She thinks Congress dragged its feet on the bill, but wants to know where the money will be allocated if the bill is approved.
“If Christie was out there blasting them, God bless him. Good for him,” Liaguno-Dorr said. But once they release it, where is it going to go?
Liaguno-Door criticized Christie for not visiting her town, though he did mention it Wednesday as a place where a delay in aid would have detrimental effects.
Zezima reported from Newark, N.J. Associated Press writer Philip Elliott in Washington contributed to this report.
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