Lauer to Chris Christie: Are You Worried That Taking On NJ Unions and Teachers Will 'Haunt' You?

Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie appeared on Wednesday's Today show and deftly handled all of Matt Lauer's pointed questions from whether or not he was worried about "taking on" the "sacred cows" of unions and teachers, if he will support Barack Obama's small business legislation, and even if the governor's criticism of Snooki and The Situation was good for Jersey Shore tourism. On taking on the "sacred cows" Christie told the Today co-anchor "We're treating the people of New Jersey like adults." And when pressed by Lauer if he'll support the President's legislation that, as Lauer put it, "would help small business" Christie clarified: "What I'm in favor of is trying to lower taxes and lower regulation on small businesses so they can spend more of their own money creating jobs." [audio available here]

And finally, Christie and Lauer shared a laugh when the subject of MTV's reality show the Jersey Shore came up as Christie pointed out the cast was originally from New York and exclaimed: "Hey listen they're yours to begin with Matt. I have enough problems here. I mean an $11 billion deficit I gotta take Snooki and The Situation also? C'mon! So much a man can take, Matt!"

The following is the complete interview as it was aired on the July 28 Today show:

MATT LAUER: With an economy on edge many states are facing some really difficult choices. New Jersey's Republican Governor Chris Christie is making waves for his no-nonsense approach to fixing his state's budget problems. Governor Christie, it's good to have you here. Good morning.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE: Good morning, Matt.

[On screen headline: "'Governor Wrecking Ball' Christie Cuts Services In NJ To Balance Budget"]

LAUER: So much for flying under the radar. You have been in office what, about six months now?

CHRISTIE: Yes sir.

LAUER: And you're making headlines. Let me give you a sample of what they're saying and writing about you, okay? "The nation's most interesting governor" "Governor Wrecking Ball" "A human bulldozer" and my personal favorite, "Chris Christie may look like Chris Farley but in terms of conservative principles he's as sexy as Christie Brinkley." Are they all right?

CHRISTIE: Well I don't know about that last one. But, you know listen, I think we're taking a very direct, blunt approach to the problems. We're treating the people of New Jersey like adults and tell 'em the truth. We are in awful shape and we need to, we need to get it together.

LAUER: That direct approach has included taking on, head on, some what are normally sacred cows - unions, teachers, cops. Any regrets about the cuts you've made and suggested so far? Are you worried, at all, that down the line, a year from now, two years from now, they may come back to haunt the people of New Jersey?

CHRISTIE: My regret is that we didn't deal with this much sooner and it's forced us to do this. So all these cuts are tough Matt. And I, and I, you know, in a perfect world I wouldn't want to do them but I'm not in a perfect world. I'm in a state where I had an $11 billion budget deficit on a $29 billion budget, with a balanced budget amendment. So we had to do, what we had to do.

LAUER: And political correctness be damned. I want to show people an exchange. You took on the teachers union. You said to teachers in your state, "Look you might have to take a pay freeze for a year. You might have to pay for some of your own health benefits." And you got into a heated exchange at a town hall meeting. Take a look.

CHRISTIE: Okay.

(Begin clip)

TEACHER: You're not compensating me for my education and you're not compensating me for my experience. That's...

CHRISTIE: Well you know what, then you don't have to do it. I mean, you know, the simple fact of the matter is.

TEACHER: Teachers, teachers do it because they love it.

CHRISTIE: The simple, the simple fact of the matter is this.

TEACHER: Teachers do it because they love it.

CHRISTIE: Well that's good. Well then-

TEACHER: That's the only reason I do it.

CHRISTIE: Well and, and you, and listen. And teachers go into it, knowing what the pay scale is.

(End clip)

LAUER: It's basically, you know, "You knew the deal, take it or leave it." Any, any fear on your part about fallout? These are teachers. And, and it's-

CHRISTIE: Right, right.

LAUER: -that's a tough group to take on. Any, any fear of fallout, on your part?

CHRISTIE: I don't think you can lead out of fear. I think, the fact of the matter is that the teachers union in New Jersey has demanded four and five percent increases in a zero percent inflation world that they pay nothing, the majority of teachers in New Jersey, for family health benefits from the day they're hired to the day they die. The people who are being ravaged by the recession are being asked to provide shelter to people from the recession. We just can't have it. And so I think, you know the politically correct approach doesn't work any more. We have to talk directly about these problems, to solve them.

LAUER: Are you, are you reacting, in some ways Governor, to what has happened inside the Republican Party? Long known as the party of fiscal responsibility, it, it took on a slightly different reputation over the last dozen or so years. Did the party lose sight of its core responsibilities?

CHRISTIE: Yeah, I think it did. And, and you know the reason I became a Republican when I was 18-years-old and voted for Ronald Reagan in 1980 was because he articulated the ideas of lower spending, smaller government, common sense regulation, lower taxes. And I feel like, over the last few years, we've lost our way. We have to get back to those core things and I think that's what people in, in New Jersey, at least want to hear.

LAUER: Let me ask you about something that's happening today. President Obama is coming to your state a little later on. I know you're going to greet him. He's here, in part, to push for legislation that would help small businesses. Do you agree with that legislation, are you in favor of it?

CHRISTIE: What I'm in favor of is trying to lower taxes and lower regulation on small businesses so they can spend more of their own money creating jobs. The one thing we know is we need more private sector jobs and so far the economy isn't producing.

LAUER: But based on what you've seen in the legislation he is pushing, will you support that legislation? Because you do see, you do agree with him on some of the things he's done for the economy.

CHRISTIE: Sure, well listen I agree with him on things like education and educational reform, renewable energy and doing those kind of things and I've been vocal in my support of him. But I think that he has to get back to those core principles as well. And I think that's what he's hearing from the public. I know that's what he'll hear in Edison today.

LAUER: Alright you made some headlines for another reason over the weekend. You're smiling already. You took on the Jersey Shore - not, not the geographic location but the television show.

[On screen headline: "Garden State Grumblings, Does Christie Think 'Jersey Shore' Is Bad For NJ?"]

CHRISTIE: Right.

LAUER: You said that the show is negative for New Jersey. Now I get the whole Governor Wrecking Ball thing. And taking on teachers is one thing. Taking on Snooki and The Situation?

CHRISTIE: Yeah well listen, you know listen, Snooki and The Situation are New Yorkers, you know? As you know. And, and so, fact of the matter is they parachute all these people from New York onto the Jersey Shore and then they say this is New Jersey. It's not New Jersey and if you want to come to the Jersey Shore, six, seven weeks left in summer, let's go. I'll show you the real Jersey Shore.

LAUER: Some people are saying that though they're good for the economy in the towns along the Jersey Shore, that they've increased tourism. You're a guy who needs money in your state!

CHRISTIE: Yeah listen, we'll find other ways to increase tourism. We'll take Snooki and The Situation, you can have 'em back. You know, we'll, I'll do something else. You know, I mean seriously, Matt.

(Laughter in studio)

LAUER, CHUCKLING: All of a sudden you're dumping them on me?!

CHRISTIE: Hey listen they're yours to begin with Matt. I have enough problems here. I mean an $11 billion deficit I gotta take Snooki and The Situation also? C'mon! So much a man can take, Matt!

LAUER: Governor Chris Christie. Governor it's good to have you here. Come back and see us.

CHRISTIE: Thanks Matt. Great to be here.

LAUER: Alright, thank you very much.

Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center.