NBC: Open Lautenberg Seat a 'Political Hot Potato' for Christie, Suggests He Appoint a Dem

Following the death of New Jersey Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg on Monday, Tuesday's NBC Today immediately began speculating on his replacement and the potential fallout for Chris Christie, with co-host Matt Lauer announcing it to be a "dilemma" and "political hot potato" for the Republican governor. The headline on screen read: "Lautenberg Seat Poses Political Problem." [Watch the video after the jump]

Lauer proclaimed: "I think the New York Times summed it up pretty well...Normally a governor would love to have this opportunity...but there's a lot of personal political risk for Chris Christie." Political director Chuck Todd agreed: "There is...any time you introduce a new factor into all of this, is always unsettling. Chris Christie is on the verge of getting a whole bunch of bipartisan support, Democrats crossing the aisle...So this is now actually a lot trickier than it should be."

In an obituary for Lautenberg on Monday's Nightly News, anchor Brian Williams lamented that the Senator's "death means the loss of a scrappy and dependable Democratic vote in the Senate."

On Today, Lauer then went so far as to suggest Christie appoint a Democrat to the seat to maintain that "dependable" vote: "Frank Lautenberg was a staunch liberal, a Democratic senator for years out of New Jersey. Christie could, on a interim basis, appoint a Democrat."

Todd shot down that possibility:

The fallout from that is if he has any interest in being President of the United States and the Republican nominee someday in 2016, he cannot alienate Republicans by somehow preventing them the opportunity from getting a U.S. Senate seat. I can – mark my words, he will not appoint a Democrat.

With his hopes dashed, Lauer consoled himself with the thought that a Democrat would win the seat anyway: "Okay, let's say he appoints a Republican on an interim basis and then sets up a special election, let's say it happens in November, that might put a guy named Cory Booker on the ballot for that seat."

Todd predicted:

Well, then that could mean that the Democratic candidate for governor, Barbara Buono, gets a lot of help. Cory Booker's very popular, could end up getting more African Americans to come out to the polls....[Christie] could end up calling for this special election and having the election in October, that means probably an easy win for Cory Booker or for any Democratic nominee...


Here is a full transcript of the June 4 segment:

7:07AM ET

MATT LAUER: Another major story in the world of politics, the dilemma now facing New Jersey's Republican Governor Chris Christie. Who will he choose as a replacement for the late Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg? It is a political hot potato. Chuck Todd is NBC's political director and chief White House correspondent. Chuck, good morning to you.

CHUCK TODD: Good morning, sir.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Christie's Big Decision; Lautenberg Seat Poses Political Problem]

LAUER: I think the New York Times summed it up pretty well. Normally a governor would love to have this opportunity because it gives that person a chance to have an impact on national politics, but there's a lot of personal political risk for Chris Christie. Take me through it.

TODD: There is, and timing is everything here. Look, he's in a re-election year and this – any time you introduce a new factor into all of this, is always unsettling. He's been on a glide path to re-election, let's be realistic here. He's got a Democratic challenger, but she is far behind. Chris Christie is on the verge of getting a whole bunch of bipartisan support...

LAUER: Right.

TODD: ...Democrats crossing the aisle. You have President Obama with him, virtually campaigning with him, though of course not endorsing. So this is now actually a lot trickier than it should be.

LAUER: So let's talk about his options. Frank Lautenberg was a staunch liberal, a Democratic senator for years out of New Jersey. Christie could, on a interim basis, appoint a Democrat. What's the fallout from that?

TODD: The fallout from that is if he has any interest in being President of the United States and the Republican nominee someday in 2016, he cannot alienate Republicans by somehow preventing them the opportunity from getting a U.S. Senate seat. I can – mark my words, he will not appoint a Democrat.

LAUER: Okay, let's say he appoints a Republican on an interim basis and then sets up a special election, let's say it happens in November, that might put a guy named Cory Booker on the ballot for that seat. What it's mean to Chris Christie?

TODD: Well, then that could mean that the Democratic candidate for governor, Barbara Buono, gets a lot of help. Cory Booker's very popular, could end up getting more African Americans to come out to the polls. But there's another option here, Matt. There is some sort of – there is legal uncertainty here in the law in New Jersey. There's conflicting law here about when a special election should be held. The strictest ruling of the law would indicate that Chris Christie – and it's my understanding, my reporting says the Governor's going to do the most strictest reading of the law – would actually put the special election, Matt, in October of this year, a few weeks before the general election. Now, that would cost extra money...

LAUER: Right.

TODD: ...so there may be pressure for him to put it at the same time. But he could end up calling for this special election and having the election in October, that means probably an easy win for Cory Booker or for any Democratic nominee, and saves him from any possibility. But, you know, Republicans here in Washington, Matt, they want this election at the same time as Christie because they think Christie helps their potential candidate.

LAUER: Alright, Chuck Todd in Washington. Chuck, thank you very much.

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