Matt Lauer Says It's 'Fair' to Grill Christie on Sending Kids to Private School But Never Challenged Obama

In an exclusive interview with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie on Friday's NBC Today, co-host Matt Lauer played a clip of a woman attacking the Republican as hypocritical for sending his children to private school while cutting funding for public schools. Lauer agreed with her premise: "I thought it was a fair question."

Lauer sympathized with the woman and argued: "...what she was asking you was – she clearly sends her kids to public schools and she's saying, 'Governor, I understand you send your kids to private schools, but is it possible, though, then you don't understand how these cuts are going to affect families,' like her's on a daily basis. Why isn't it a fair question?"

In the clip, Christie told the woman: "First off, it's none of your business. I don't ask you where you send your kids to school. Don't bother me about where I send mine." Lauer worried: "...you became known as a guy who speaks in blunt terms, sometimes to a shocking level....Is that a little blunt, even for you?"

While Lauer thought it was perfectly fair to question Christie's decision to send his kids to private school, the Today co-host never leveled the same criticism at President Obama. On January 5, 2009, as Malia and Sasha Obama were headed to their first day at the elite Sidwell Friends School in Washington, Lauer talked to psychiatrist Gail Saltz and Vanity Fair's Maureen Orth about how the first daughters would maintain a sense of "normalcy" once their father was sworn in as president.

Lauer never described the decision to send the Obama girls to private school as controversial, but he did ask Orth a question about the First Lady: "Do we have a sense of the mothering style of Michelle?"

During a town hall meeting about education reform on the September, 27, 2010 Today, Obama was asked about his daughters attending a private school. However, the question did not come from Lauer, or any NBC journalist, but rather from a woman in the audience.

That woman, Kelly Burnett, didn't necessarily criticize the President, but simply wondered: "As a father of two very delightful and seemingly very bright daughters, I wanted to know whether or not you think that Malia and Sasha would get the same high-quality, rigorous education in a DC public school as compared to their very elite private academy that they're attending now?"

On Friday, Christie completely refuted Lauer's assertion that the question was "fair," or even relevant:

It's nonsensical. I mean, to think as the governor you don't understand every cut that you make and the effects that it has on people is nonsensical. And the fact is, wherever I send my children to school – because my wife and I decide that we want our children to go to Catholic school because it helps reinforce the values we're teaching – has nothing to do with it. I'm a product of the public schools, I went to the public schools in New Jersey my entire life. And so the idea to think that as governor somehow that makes my ability less powerful because my children don't go to them.

Because let me tell you this, Matt. You know what my skin in the game is on the public schools? I pay $38,000 a year in property taxes and my kids don't go to the school that uses most of that money. But that's my responsibility as a citizen, to help to fund good, free public schools in my state. I'm not complaining about it, I'm not asking her for any money to send my kids to parochial school. So it's none of her business.

The interview began on a positive note, as Lauer praised Christie's ability to pass major cost-cutting reform legislation on a bipartisanship basis: "Governor Chris Christie is celebrating a very big win this morning. He just persuaded the Democratic-controlled legislature in his state to pass historic pension and heah care reform that he claims will save his state billions of dollars."

However, Lauer quickly found a negative way to spin the accomplishment: "It comes with a cost, okay? I mean when you look at your situation in New Jersey right now, teachers don't like you, the public employees unions, they hate you right now. Your approval rating, 47% of the people in New Jersey disapprove, right now, of the job that Chris Christie is doing in the state. Simply go with the territory?"

On Thursday, Lauer similarly touted low approval ratings for other Republican governors and claimed voters may be feeling "buyer's remorse." What he left out of his reporting on Thursday and Friday was Obama's equally low poll numbers.

Here is a full transcript of Lauer's June 24 interview with Christie:

7:00AM ET TEASE:  

MATT LAUER: Today exclusive. He's one of the most talked about politicians in the country and he's fresh off a huge win in his state. What can Chris Christie's victory in New Jersey teach lawmakers in Washington? He'll join us live and we'll ask the question, is he or isn't he?

7:11AM ET SEGMENT:
                
LAUER: If you thought the presidential buzz was loud already, just wait. New Jersey's Republican Governor Chris Christie is celebrating a very big win this morning. He just persuaded the Democratic-controlled legislature in his state to pass historic pension and heah care reform that he claims will save his state billions of dollars. Governor Chris Christie is with us exclusively. Governor, congratulations.

CHRIS CHRISTIE: Thank you, Matt.

LAUER: It's huge. I mean this reform, according to your estimates and other estimates, will save your state something like $130 billion over the next 30 years. You said this about it, quote, 'It's an example of bipartisanship that the President and the Congress can only aspire to.' So is this something that could only happen at the state level?

CHRISTIE: No, no, it's not. But what you need to do is everybody needs to take risk, everyone needs to bring skin in the game. And I have to tell you, I would not have been able to achieve this for New Jersey without the Senate President Steve Sweeney and the Speaker of the Assembly, Sheila Oliver. Everybody came together, put aside party.

LAUER: Okay, so take me – let's look at the bigger picture. You know exactly what's going on in Washington right now. So specifically, what can the President and what can members of Congress learn from what you've just accomplished in New Jersey?

CHRISTIE: Well first, the President can show up. I mean, you know, you can't negotiate through a secondary person. And with all due respect to the Vice President, the President's got to show up. And I spent hours and hours and hours, Matt, with the Senate President and the Speaker personally in my office over weeks negotiating this.

LAUER: But when you say the President has to show up, both sides need to be willing to really grab compromise. Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, just walked away from the table in the last day because he doesn't want to consider raising taxes. Was that the right move?

CHRISTIE: Well listen, if that's what they needed to do to get the President in the room, then so be it.

LAUER: Based on your experience, is that what you would – is that what Chris Christie would have done in a similar situation?

CHRISTIE: Well, no. I'm the governor, so I would be the one trying to get dragged into the room. But I didn't have to be dragged into the room, Matt. I knew this was my responsibility. And so did Steve Sweeney and Shelia Oliver that it was their responsibilities. We didn't send seconds into the ring. We got into the ring ourselves, we battled it out, we came to compromise, we convinced our colleagues and we did it.

LAUER: It comes with a cost, okay? I mean when you look at your situation in New Jersey right now, teachers don't like you, the public employees unions, they hate you right now. Your approval rating, 47% of the people in New Jersey disapprove, right now, of the job that Chris Christie is doing in the state. Simply go with the territory?

CHRISTIE: Yes. You earn political capital in order to spend it to achieve big things. And what makes what happened in New Jersey different than what's happening in other places is we did it in a bipartisan way. This is not just a Republican plan or a Democratic plan, it's a bipartisan plan where we compromised to put the people first, Matt. This is the – the taxpayer's going to be saved over $130 billion over the next 30 years. We needed to bring equity and shared sacrifice to this.

LAUER: This took a long time. This was a year-long process. During that time you became known as a guy who speaks in blunt terms, sometimes to a shocking level. I've always admired that from you. I really have. But I listened to a comment you made recently and even I was surprised. This is an exchange you had with a voter over cuts in education. Let me play it, okay?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: ...schools, you send them to private schools. So I was wondering why you think it's fair to be cutting school funding to public schools?

CHRISTIE: First off, it's none of your business. I don't ask you where you send your kids to school. Don't bother me about where I send mine.

LAUER: Is that a little blunt, even for you?

CHRISTIE: No, it's not, because her point is completely ridiculous. I shouldn't be able to make decisions about budgetary issues that relate to public schools because my children go to private school? That was the question.

LAUER: No, no, no, but no-

CHRISTIE: And it's none of her business where I send my kids to school, Matt.

LAUER: I thought it was a fair question, and I'll tell you why. Because what she was asking you was – she clearly sends her kids to public schools and she's saying, 'Governor, I understand you send your kids to private schools, but is it possible, though, then you don't understand how these cuts are going to affect families,' like her's on a daily basis. Why isn't it a fair question?

CHRISTIE: It's nonsensical. I mean, to think as the governor you don't understand every cut that you make and the effects that it has on people is nonsensical. And the fact is, wherever I send my children to school – because my wife and I decide that we want our children to go to Catholic school because it helps reinforce the values we're teaching – has nothing to do with it. I'm a product of the public schools, I went to the public schools in New Jersey my entire life. And so the idea to think that as governor somehow that makes my ability less powerful because my children don't go to them.

Because let me tell you this, Matt. You know what my skin in the game is on the public schools? I pay $38,000 a year in property taxes and my kids don't go to the school that uses most of that money. But that's my responsibility as a citizen, to help to fund good, free public schools in my state. I'm not complaining about it, I'm not asking her for any money to send my kids to parochial school. So it's none of her business.

LAUER: Alright-

CHRISTIE: And when it's none of your business, it's none of you business, Matt. That's it.

LAUER: Well, let move on to something else. You had lunch recently, or a meeting recently, with Rudy Giuliani. What did you guys talk about? Don't say, 'It's none of your business.'

CHRISTIE: No, no. You sure?

[LAUGHTER]

CHRISTIE: Listen, what we talked about was his future, my future. And talked about governing.

LAUER: Did he say, 'Are you running, because I'm considering it?' And, 'If you're running I don't think I can win in this area and I don't want to get involved'?

CHRISTIE: No, he didn't say exactly that.

LAUER: Did he say something similar to that?

CHRISTIE: Listen, what – listen, we had a conversation. He again asked me about what I was going to do. And I told him, 'There's no different answer because I'm here at lunch with you than there is everything I said publicly. I'm governor, want to be governor, I'm not running for president. That's that.'

LAUER: So, no, no, no. We haven't heard – I haven't heard 'no' this often since I asked the homecoming queen to the prom. So-    

[LAUGHTER]

CHRISTIE: Matt, I had the same experience, baby. I feel your pain.

LAUER: So it is no?

CHRISTIE: It's no.

LAUER: Even though it looks like there's some things coming up. You're going to speak in Iowa next month before a crucial straw poll. You recently met with some campaign donors out there. So is your mouth saying no, is your heart still considering yes?

CHRISTIE: No, listen, I got invited by Governor Branstad to come out and speak about education reform, which is something I feel passionately about. And he's a friend. So I'm going to go out and do it. Some folks from Iowa wanted to come to New Jersey. Anybody who wants to come to New Jersey, Matt, I'm in, babe. Let them come. And we sat, we met, we talked about it. But I was very clear with them too, I care about the future of our country and I want us to have the best possible candidate in our party to run for president. But it's not going to be me.

LAUER: Thank you for being here.

CHRISTIE: Good seeing you, Matt.

LAUER: Governor Chris Christie. By the way, I want to tell you that he's going to be David's guest on Sunday morning on Meet the Press. Good luck with that.  

CHRISTIE: Thank you.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC