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Christie Scandal Grows; Growing the Middle Class

Aired January 8, 2014 - 18:28   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

STEPHANIE CUTTER, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE. I'm Stephanie Cutter on the left.

S.E. CUPP, CO-HOST: I'm S.. Cupp on the right.

Two members of Congress are here tonight to debate how we broke the middle class. The first has turned into a huge breaking news day for Chris Christie.

We want to start with the latest allegations involving the New Jersey governor and possible Republican presidential candidate.

Let's get to Wolf Blitzer -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Let's see. Let's review what's going on, because this is breaking news right now.

The New Jersey governor scrambling to try to react to these stunning new indications that his close aides deliberately and gleefully -- gleefully -- plotted revenge against a political opponent last year.

E-mails that emerged today suggest a top Christie aide helped orchestrate lane closures last September on a crucial bridge connecting New Jersey and New York City. Closures that created a dangerous, potentially very dangerous traffic back-up.

Late this afternoon, the governor finally responded in a written statement, and he said this, "What I see today for the first time is unacceptable. I'm outraged and deeply saddened to learn that not only was I misled by a member of my staff, but this completely inappropriate and unsanctioned conduct was made without my knowledge. One thing is clear: this type of behavior is unacceptable, and I will not tolerate it because the people of New Jersey deserve better. This behavior is not representative of me or my administration in any way, and people will be held responsible for their actions."

S.E. and Stephanie, let's discuss how damaging this potentially could be for Chris Christie. S.E., first to you.

CUPP: Well, look, I think if you're in not New Jersey or not D.C., you look at this story, which is actually pretty complicated, and you think, he did what, to who, when, where, what? And you kind of write it off. And two, I think this doesn't create a new narrative about Chris Christie. He's already cemented a narrative as being something of a bully. If this was happening in his administration, I don't think it would be shocking.

I think in the end, not the lane closures, but the lying about it. If it turns the out that he's lying about what he knew or whether he ordered it, that's going to be the worst, the most damaging. Because his authenticity is his calling card, and that will call that into question.

CUTTER: Right. I think it's not hard to follow the story, regardless of where you live, that somebody is seeking political retribution and that somebody is bullying somebody on the other side of the aisle --

CUPP: Yes, but --

CUTTER: The thing that people are hearing is that Chris Christie bullied someone. They don't like bullying.

CUPP: News flash.

CUTTER: They don't like it when they see it in Washington. They don't like it in their own community. And why would they want somebody like that as president? There were already major questions about Chris Christie, about how somebody like him was going to play in Iowa.

CUPP: Right.

CUTTER: South Carolina. Even New Hampshire. I mean, what's he going to do if he doesn't get his way in Iowa? Is he going to shut down I- 80? You know? That's not going to go over well.

And you're right. His biggest calling card, the thing that people liked about him most, the thing that has lifted up his numbers in the heads of Hillary Clinton and everybody else, was his authenticity.

CUPP: Right.

CUTTER: He's a straight talker. But this other side of him is going to be the bigger story, because this is going to be a drip, drip, drip. He needs to explain -- he said he didn't know.

CUPP: Yes.

CUTTER: He's implying that he was lied to.

CUPP: Right.

CUTTER: Who is this text messager that --

CUPP: No, we have a lot more to learn.

CUTTER: -- acted from the documents that have been released? Why was this culture created in the governor's office where something like this was acceptable? Because obviously this was condoned.

CUPP: Well, again, I mean, if it turns out that he lied, that's going to be a bad -- that's going to be a bad day for Christie.

CUTTER: Maybe the latest example, there's going to be other examples to come out.

CUPP: Well, we'll see. I know oppo research is on his case.

CNN's Joe Johns has some other developments just coming in -- Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: S.E., this is a new headache for the Chris Christie administration. This is a letter from the emergency services coordinator in Fort Lee, New Jersey. His name is Paul Favia.

He ticks off in this letter four occasions when emergency medical crews were delayed from responding to calls, apparently due to the change in traffic patterns in the Fort Lee area during the time period in question. We're talking about a vehicle accident with injuries involving four patients. And also, and perhaps most importantly, he reports a woman was in cardiac arrest and says she was later pronounced at Inglewood Hospital. Generally in the parlance, pronounced means pronounced dead.

And there are a couple other cases in this letter that Favia ticks off of people experiencing chest pains.

Now, this letter is not political; it was dated September 10th of last year. The only recommendation he makes is some type of modification or change to the new traffic patterns. But what it does indicate is how serious it is when you start fooling around with the traffic patterns on a major thoroughfare. And as I said, it could only add to the headaches for the Chris Christie administration at this stage.

CUPP: Joe, we have the letter, as well. And it's very earnest, and the date was the first thing I noticed. This was not written today to say, guess what I knew happened a year ago? This was in the moment a concerned official who didn't understand why it was taking a lot longer to get --

CUPP: Right.

CUTTER: Look, when you shut down local access lanes on the G.W. Bridge, anybody who's traveled up the Northeast Corridor knows the implications of that. Everything shuts down.

We know that there are consequences now for public health. We know that there are consequences with just getting people -- our kids to school. There are consequences for people getting to work. There are consequences to political retribution and bullying.

And when I said earlier that there's going to be a drip, drip, drip here now, this is an example of what we're going to see. This is going to be a long story. He's got more questions to answer. And he needs -- he needs to apologize to take responsibility.

CUPP: And I think, yes, again, I hope he didn't have anything to do with it, but if it turns out he's lying, that's a bad thing.

CUTTER: It's his administration. He set the culture.

CUPP: But the good will he got from Democrats after Sandy Hook, when he was helping out the party or was perceived that way, will be gone. I mean, there's 2014, and there's 2016. And they know he's a threat, a political threat to the presidency. So there's going to be bath or blood.

CUTTER: Taking a big hit today. Whatever threat there was, I think that he's got a lot to overcome to get beyond this. There are already questions, as I said, about whether a New Jersey governor known for his straight talk/bullying would play well in the rest of the country. I think, you know, the results of this story will show us that it doesn't.

I hope he's clean. I really do.

A few minutes ago in CNN's THE SITUATION ROOM, I spoke with the mayor -- oh, no, I didn't. Sorry. That's for Wolf.

Back to you. I knew I wasn't there.

BLITZER: Exactly. That's me. I was in THE SITUATION ROOM.

CUPP: Yes. I wasn't there.

BLITZER: You guys were outside THE SITUATION ROOM. And I had a chance to speak with Mayor Mark Sokolich. He's the mayor of Fort Lee. He's right at the heart of this controversy. Because it was his community of Fort Lee, New Jersey, on one side of the George Washington Bridge, that was punished by these political shenanigans. Listen to what the mayor told me.


BLITZER: What should be done to those who were responsible when all the dust clears, when we know everything about this?

MARK SOKOLICH, MAYOR, FORT LEE, NEW JERSEY: Well, for those that are responsible -- are responsible for this most heinous act, they can no longer be in positions of power in government.

Wolf, if you know me from 30 seconds, you know I don't have an ounce of venom in me. As a matter of fact, I've stayed in the background of this story. I didn't decide to join the fray of this until today when these e-mails surfaced. I'm not a retribution kind of a guy.

But the folks that are responsible for this can no longer be in positions that they can actually cause this type of damage to other unsuspecting communities. It's not acceptable.

But I have a prediction. You'll have a resignation or two and you'll hear, of course, that this was part of their career path and they were resigning anyway. It's not -- it not even remotely acceptable to do what you did. It is the lowest, most venomous form of political retaliation. And this in a time when New Jersey needs this like we need a hole in the head. We've now ensured that we're going to remain the butt of every political joke for the next 20 years on political misconduct. I'm actually ashamed.

BLITZER: You're ashamed for your entire -- what? Ashamed about what?

SOKOLICH: I'm ashamed -- I'm ashamed to be in the position of an elected official in the state of New Jersey and now to be painted with broad strokes and have to deal with business as usual here in the state of New Jersey. It's not fair. It's not fair to the folks that follow the rules. It's not fair to the folks that are in these positions for the right reasons.


BLITZER: You know, S.E. and Stephanie, I got to tell you, weeks ago when we first learned about this story, I sort of was shrugging, well, what's the big deal? Doesn't seem like a big deal.

But I've got to tell you, today it's all of a sudden become a huge, huge deal in part because this governor, who was so popular -- is so popular in New Jersey, won reelection by a landslide, was widely considered one of the leading Republican presidential candidates. He's in potentially deep, deep trouble right now. And a lot depends on how he deals with this crisis, what additional information we learn.

S.E. and Stephanie, pick it up. Tell us how much trouble the governor politically may be in.

CUTTER: Well, S.E., you suggested earlier today that a way for him to get out of his political trouble would be to resign.

CUPP; Yes.

CUTTER: And invoke some sympathy.

CUPP: Play mea culpa, say, "I did it." In the next three years, getting his fans and --

CUTTER: Well, I'd love him to design.

CUPP: Only if he did it. Not if he didn't do it. Then that would be silly.

Wolf, I'm really glad you were there to interview that mayor, and I wasn't.

BLITZER; You would have done a great job.

CUPP: No, it was a great job. Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you.

In a minute we're going to switch to another big topic today. Republicans are putting out ideas to help grow the middle class. So where's President Obama? We'll ask two members of Congress, next.


CUTTER: Welcome back. In the CROSSFIRE tonight, members of Congress from both political parties.

Today in a change of course, the Republican Party put income inequality on center stage, just as the country marks 50 years since President Lyndon Johnson's famous address on the war on poverty.

Today Marco Rubio, full-time senator and part-time presidential candidate, offered this.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: We should pursue reforms that encourage and reward work. This would allow an unemployed individual to take a job that pays, say $18,000 a year, which on its own is not enough to make ends meet, but then they receive a federal enhancement to make the job a more enticing alternative to simply collecting unemployment insurance.


CUTTER: If that sounds familiar, that's because it is. President Obama has been fighting to make work pay and follow the long-term unemployment problem for years, only to be blocked by Republicans.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have to do more to help the long-term unemployed in their search for work. People who collect unemployment insurance participate in temporary work as a way to build their skills while they look for a permanent job.


CUTTER: Senator Rubio, in all seriousness, I'm glad you decided to be part of the conversation, but now please put your money where your mouth is. Don't just lay down a campaign speech. Work with the president, your fellow Democrats and hopefully fellow Republicans to actually get something done.

CUPP: Well, Republicans have been talking about income inequality and poverty for quite some time and have put out their own ideas of how to change that. And for all of President Obama's lip service, it has not moved the needle.

Congresswoman, let me start with you.

When the president first came into office, median household income was around $53,000. Now, it's around $51,000. And income inequality has widened more under this president than the past president.

This leads me to believe one of two things -- either Democrats don't care about this issue except as an election year talking point or they do care but their policies haven't worked to solve it. Which one is it?

REP. DONNA EDWARDS (D), MARYLAND: S.E., give me a break, Republicans have consistently -- they cut $40 billion in the House out of food stamps.


CUPP: Poverty, not income inequality, Congresswoman. They're two different things.

EDWARDS: No, hold on a second. Because it keeps people from going into poverty. And, you know, when LBJ launched the war on poverty, he said it was unconditional, and yet Republicans over and over put conditions on people's poverty and on their income. How do we close those gaps? I mean, even job retraining, the president said we want to do job retraining, skills building for the 21st century, but Republicans have said no.

The president put forward rebuilding our roads, our bridges, all of our infrastructure so it could put people back to work. Republicans have said no, no, no. $40 billion from food stamps, quite frankly for a lot of working families, actually helps them and supports them because they need those food stamps --


CUPP: -- when you guys held both houses of Congress?

EDWARDS: And let me just tell you something -- look --

CUPP: That was the president's fault as well?

EDWARDS: The president came into office losing 700,000 jobs every single month. This economy that the president has created over the last six years has actually regained all of those jobs that have been lost and is growing the economy again, except that Republicans are standing in the way of the kinds of things that would actually make a difference to working people, raising the minimum wage. Why are you all opposed to raising the minimum wage?

CUPP: Also wouldn't solve poverty.

REP. MICK MULVANEY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: And I'm more than happy to talk about that.


CUTTER: We just heard Senator Rubio say that $18,000 a year is not enough to live on. People earning the minimum wage are in $14,500 a year.

CUPP: Half of people are minimum wage are --


CUTTER: So, people are living in poverty. CUPP: -- between the ages of 16 and 24. They're suburban high school and college kids.

CUTTER: Twenty percent are kids. The rest of them are single women, overwhelming majority of them are women. They're working families. They're trying to make ends meet.


CUPP: This is why -- look at the income gap between working families and the rich.

MULVANEY: Almost everybody -- I hate to use percentages when we talk about people. But 97 percent of people, almost everybody who has a full-time job is out of poverty, 2.9 percent of people full time jobs are in poverty.

CUTTER: Which are a significant number of people.

MULVANEY: It is, there's no question. But it's not -- it's clearly the minimum wage is not the answer to getting people out of poverty. It's getting people in full-time permanent jobs, all right? That's where the president is failing us.

I want to push back a little bit when you said that the president has regained all the jobs that he lost during his first term. That's not true. There's actually 1.9 million fewer people working today than there was when this president came into office. He stands to be the first president in history to leave office with fewer people working than who began worked. So, simply, that's not the case.

EDWARDS: Unemployment right now sits at 7 percent. When the president came in, it was inching up toward 10 percent. What we do -- what we do know is that we have in this country we've created gaps of employment where the greatest income gains in the country in the last several years have gone where, they've gone to that top 1 percent.

So, when LBJ launched that war on poverty, when he said it was unconditional, he didn't say we just needed to do one thing. He said we needed to do several things. And he created a number of programs that could actually do that, and one by one, Republicans in the Congress are whittling away at them.

CUTTER: Let's talk about the gap programs we're talking about.

MULVANEY: And still, many people in poverty today.

CUTTER: But let's talk about the programs that actually lift people out of poverty, strengthen the middle class, close the income gap. The president, over the last several years, has proposed several things -- removing the financial deterrence to marriage. So, for low- income couples, which has been shown to lift people out of poverty, investing heavily in community colleges. So, that people get the job training they need, and then opening up the doors to college so that people can lift themselves up and build better lives for themselves. Republicans have fought us every step of the way. Marco Rubio laid out an almost identical agenda today. I just want to know, is this -- is this an indication that we can finally start working together on these programs?

MULVANEY: If the measurement of compassion for the middle class, if the measurement of the compassion for people from poverty is the amount that we've spent, then we're the most compassionate country on the face of the nation. OK?

If the measurement is, are we actually having success and getting people out of poverty and to LBJ's point, preventing them from worrying about poverty in the first place, then what we've done for the last 50 years has been a dismal failure. I think we can -- I hope that we can agree on that. It hasn't worked.

We've spent $20 trillion in the last 50 years and so, we have more people in poverty. They clearly, it's not working.

So, let's try at least to have a discussion where how much money we spend is not a measure of our compassion. But how many folks we actually helped is the measure of our --

CUPP: Well -- and, Congresswoman, let me -- let me ask you a math question, an economic question. Why would you raise the minimum wage incentivizing people to stay longer in a low skilled, low paying job by paying them more? Why isn't the -- why isn't the effort to get people out of minimum wage jobs?

EDWARDS: Well, I mean, the reality is, as I said, you don't just do one thing. And so, for the 30 million people who had benefit from an increase in the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10, that's great for those 30 million people.

For others who would benefit from job training, we have to do job training. We have to put a skill base that matches the 21st century. So, we invest in education. Do things.

If we want to work with the tax code, expand research and development tax credit so that, you know, we're actually investing in the kinds of things that will grow the kinds of jobs that we need for the 21st century. It's not a one shot off. We have to take these multiple tacks in order to both get people out ever poverty, but also improve the prospects of all of those middle class people who've lost incomes over the last couple of decades.

CUTTER: It's also insulting to say that those people earning minimum wage want to stay there.

CUPP: I never said that.

CUTTER: Well, incentives to keep them --

CUPP: It did not come out of my mouth.

CUTTER: You're right, you didn't say that. But that's the implication of providing incentives to keep people in minimum wage jobs.

CUPP: No, I think incentives --

CUTTER: They want to make sure that --


CUPP: It's -- mathematically, it actually works against their best interests.

CUTTER: Well, the 40 hours of work that they're putting in every week should pay. Marco Rubio said that work should pay today. The president has been saying that for a long time. It's not currently paying. It's -- they're earning $14,500 a year. They're 17 percent below the poverty line. We should raise the minimum --

CUPP: We should get them out of poverty. And raising the minimum wage won't do that.

EDWARDS: Look, if you raise -- if you raise the minimum wage, for those workers, that is a huge difference for them. It means, for example, that they don't have to rely as heavily on food stamps that you want to cut anyway. They don't have to rely as heavily on energy assistance, on housing assistance.

Raising the minimum wage, they put that money into the economy, directly into the economy --

CUTTER: Well, it means less hiring. Less hiring --



CUTTER: There's not a single study that has demonstrated that when you raise the minimum wage there's less hiring.



CUTTER: We're going to have to go to break. We're going to have time to continue this discussion when we come back.

So, stay here.

Next, the final question for both of our guests.

We also want you at home to weigh in on today's "Fireback" question. Do you think that raising the minimum wage would reduce poverty? Tweet yes or no using #crossfire. We'll have the results after the break.


CUTTER: We're back with Representatives Donna Edwards and Mick Mulvaney.

Now, it's time for the final question.

Congressman, I cut you off to go to break earlier. So, I want to come back to you. The question: for or against raising minimum wage?

MULVANEY: Against. I do think it will cost people their jobs. There may be people who benefit from it, but there will be other people who lose their jobs.

That said, I have no difficulty with Maryland raising theirs, South Carolina wants to raise ours, that's fine. There's 21 states who have already decided to do that.

That's a great thing about being in America. States can practice different things. They can experiment with different things. So, I have no difficulty with that. There's just no reason for the federal government to do it.

CUPP: All right. Congresswoman, my final question to you -- it seems like Democrats are putting a lot of energy and attention in minimum wage and raising it in an election year. I have a feeling I know why they're doing that.

But what happens if Republicans vote to raise it? What do you move to next? What's the next sort of election year issue you want to hang to voters?

EDWARDS: Well, the last time we raised minimum wage it's because Democrats did it. So, I think it's time for us to raise that wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10, tie it to inflation so that we don't have to engage in these debates again and let that benefit 30 million people across this country and raise the wage base.

And then I think it's important to move from there to things like how do we create jobs and grow the economy for all of the middle class. How do we invest in infrastructure to rebuild the nation's infrastructure? Those are things that are important to growing the economy.

CUTTER: OK. Thanks to Representatives Donna Edwards and Mick Mulvaney.

CUPP: Go to Facebook or Twitter to weigh in on our "Fireback" question. Do you think raising the minimum wage would reduce poverty? Right now, 45 percent of you say yes, 55 percent say no.

CUTTER: The debate continues online at, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

From the left, I'm Stephanie Cutter.

CUPP: From the right, I'm S.E. Cupp.

Join us tomorrow for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.