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Piers Morgan Live

Interview with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie

Aired February 25, 2012 - 21:00   ET


PIERS MORGAN, CNN HOST: Tonight he's the biggest star in the Republican Party. He's not even running for president. Governor Chris Christie answers the tough questions.


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: Don't twist what I said.

MORGAN: I wasn't -- no, no.

CHRISTIE: The most horrible --

MORGAN: You haven't even heard the question.

CHRISTIE: I know the question.

MORGAN: What's the question?

CHRISTIE: The most --

MORGAN: What's the question?

CHRISTIE: Do you really think Warren Buffet need as much attention from the government as the most vulnerable?


CHRISTIE: OK. Thank you.


MORGAN: Chris Christie on the Santorum surge.


CHRISTIE: Talk to me when we're at 50, 60 percent of the delegates. And then we can start seeing if anybody has got to surge yet or not.


MORGAN: And why he's got this weird man-crush on the Boss.


MORGAN: Four pictures of Bruce Springsteen. And he doesn't even like you. CHRISTIE: Well, listen, I like him. You know?


CHRISTIE: So it's unrequited love.


MORGAN: And only in America, does size really matter when it comes to politics?


CHRISTIE: We don't take any victory laps in this battle, Piers. I've been going through it for, you know, 20 plus years.


MORGAN: My exclusive interview with Chris Christie.


CHRISTIE: Every day when I come in to this building, it's still amazing to me. I have a sense of wonder and I think to myself, how the hell did this happen? How did I become governor? You know? You really just shake your head about it.


MORGAN: The PIERS MORGAN interview starts now.

Governor, thank you for inviting me into your lair here.

CHRISTIE: Yes, sir.

MORGAN: Four pictures of Bruce Springsteen and he doesn't even like you.

CHRISTIE: Well, listen, I like him, you know?


CHRISTIE: So it's unrequited love. You know, I've got to -- I've got to hang with it.

MORGAN: Well, talking about unrequited love, I know for a fact you've been watching my show because Donald Trump told me. He had dinner with you and you confirmed this to him. So given you watch my show, you'll know that my favorite question to many guests is how many times have you been properly in love, which leads me to the fundamental issue about Mitt Romney.

Why are so few members of his own party properly in love with Mitt Romney?

CHRISTIE: You know, I think there's two things at play here. The first is that he's a very reserved guy. And so in the time that we're in right now, which is a very tumultuous, angry, emotional time, at the moment, reserve is not necessarily what the primary electorate seems to want. And so I think that's one part of it.

I think, it, by the way, will be a real asset to him in the general election as times are tumultuous and people who vote for president, not just the nominee. But I think secondly, too, it is the nature of our Republican electorate right now is that they're very angry about the president and the direction the president is taking us in and they want someone who they believe will fight the president.

Now I think Governor Romney will do that on the issues. They seem to want something more emotive at the moment. I think that kind of ebbs and flows. And I think it will eventually come back his way as we look at these contests that are coming up at the end of this month and then -- and then on to Super Tuesday.

MORGAN: But what you're seeing is a real battle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party. And clear choices are emerging, not just on policy, but also on character and on the very passion you just hinted at. Because I sense that one of the reasons Rick Santorum is gaining such momentum is not necessarily that he is, in reality, more passionate than Mitt Romney or that he cares more, is that he sounds like he does.

A lot of Romney supporters say to me, why isn't he giving more of himself to this? Why isn't he beating his chest more? Why isn't he giving us more possession? Why doesn't he look like he wants this more?

CHRISTIE: Well, I don't think anybody could come to the conclusion he doesn't want it. And this guy works incredibly hard, extraordinarily hard, to get out and meet people and to win votes. So I don't think it's that.

Again, I think it's, you know, there's certain personalities and you interview lots of people. I would not be called the reserved type, right?


CHRISTIE: But Romney is. And Governor Romney is a reserved kind of guy. And I think people need to get him -- to know him more. I have told him that I think it benefits him to get out there more and let people see the family side of him, see him as a father, as a husband, as a grandfather, because when you see that, you see the enormous compassion he has and how much he cares about his kids, his grandkids and their future.

MORGAN: Actually I think you're -- you make a good point, because I think it is that lack of personal stuff which, at the moment, is giving Rick Santorum a bit of a benefit out there. He's out there and he has a strong family. You know that.

CHRISTIE: Yes. MORGAN: He's a Catholic like you and he's -- you know, again, the criticism I hear about Mitt Romney compared to Rick Santorum and it was summed up by "The Economist" magazine. I think their headline has said, Santorum comes over as authentic in a way that Mitt Romney doesn't. Mitt Romney, because he's perceived to have flip-flopped on quite a few of his issues, because he comes over as quite robotic, actually comes over as slightly slippery, their words, not mine.

Do you accept any of that criticism of the way he's being perceived?

CHRISTIE: No, I don't accept the criticism. I think it's wrong because I don't think he's slippery. I don't think he's somebody -- I think he's someone whose issues have evolved over time and he's admitted that. And I think we do want people who, while they have core beliefs, are also thinking people who are always reevaluating positions and issues to make sure that it's something they're still comfortable with and something they're willing to fight for.

MORGAN: But here's the problem. This is what Rick Santorum said at CPAC. The lesson we've learned is that we will no longer abandon and apologize for the policies and principles that made this country great for a hollow victory in November.

Now he's banging that drum, and I think he's banging it quite successfully, to many conservatives. What he's saying is, I am true to my principles and they're conservative principles. And if you study his record, it's very hard to find much evidence of what some would say is opportunistic flip-flopping.

CHRISTIE: Well, listen, Senator Santorum also has been one of the folks who's been one of the biggest spenders, you know, in Washington, D.C. and was a part of a huge spending spree while he was in Washington and tried to bring tons of money back to Pennsylvania. So let's not go overboard with this his, you know, true-to-his-core- conservative principles. I could point out a number of ways that Rick has, at times, varied from that. Now, he would argue --

MORGAN: Go on. Give me a few examples.

CHRISTIE: Listen, he would argue, on the other hand, that that was his job as Pennsylvania senator, was to try to bring money back to the state. And I would say to him, yes, that was one of your jobs. But don't try to argue to me on the other hand that that is a core conservative principle.

So here's my view of it. I believe that you should never compromise your principles. But I always believe there is a -- there's a boulevard between getting everything you want and compromising your principles. And the job of a leader is to negotiate the vehicle onto that boulevard and move it down so we can make progress.

Romney will do that and I think he'll do better than anybody who's offering themselves for president right now, including the president, who's proven that he can't do that.

MORGAN: Be honest, the moment you heard the following words out of Mitt Romney's mouth, did you do what the rest of us do, and went what? "I am severely conservative."

CHRISTIE: Well, sure, I wouldn't have used that phrase, but --


CHRISTIE: But you know what? You know, you can't have it both ways in a sense, Piers. You know, you want people to be spontaneous and you want them to be speaking from the heart. And at times that means some words will come out of your mouth that weren't perfect.

If you want something that's perfectly rehearsed, if you want a performance, a theater performance, go to the president of the United States. He reads off the teleprompters. He gives a theater performance. And if that's what you want, if you think that's genuineness, then he's your guy to vote for.

I happen not to. And so you know what, I'm out there enough unscripted. I know every once in a while, words come out of your mouth that you would have liked to have picked better. But in the end, I think people are just looking to pick on Governor Romney now. The fact of the matter is he could have used committed, he could have used a bunch of different words. He used severely. I wouldn't have used it and I guess he wouldn't use it again either. But the fact is, what's the difference?

MORGAN: Well, well, whoa. I guess the difference --

CHRISTIE: What's the difference?

MORGAN: Well, the difference is that many people in the Republican Party actually think the last thing he is is severely conservative. And that's his problem, that they look at someone like Rick Santorum and they think he's indisputably severely conservative. And that comes back to my thing at the start about the battle for the heart and soul of the party, is which way is the party instinctively now going to go?

CHRISTIE: I think you have to look at the -- at the sum of someone's record. I've looked at the sum of Governor's -- Governor Romney's record and I believe he's the best person to lead our party and the best person to lead our country through these difficult times.

MORGAN: What is the -- you know him better than many people. And for somebody like you, you know, when I last interviewed you, I was pushing you to do what everyone in the party was desperate for at the time, for you to say I'm going to run. And I think -- I still think you would have been a very serious contender. But you chose not to, for reasons that we discussed at the time. And you put your stool behind Mitt Romney.

What are the characteristics of him that are not getting over at the moment that you see when you speak to him privately that persuaded you to put your reputation behind him?

CHRISTIE: One, I think he's got integrity. Two, I think he is very smart. Three, I think he cares deeply about the issues. Four, I think he has the experience as an executive to actually turn ideas and concepts into reality. All those things are incredibly important. And, lastly, I absolutely do believe that this guy is a conservative and that he will govern in a conservative way for the future of our country.

And so there are five things that I see and that I think a lot of other people see, too. Because let's remember something, we all get into this, you know, hyper heavy breathing that we go through. In fact, the last election, the last time people voted, you know, Mitt Romney has won a state convincingly, like Florida, that is a microcosm of our entire country.

And I'd suggest to you that in some of the other places where Senator Santorum won, he didn't even win any delegates. This is about getting 1144 delegates.

MORGAN: It is.

CHRISTIE: He's got to get there.

MORGAN: It is. But it's also about momentum. And you are a political animal to your absolute fiber.

CHRISTIE: Thank you.

MORGAN: I knew you'd like that. But, you know -- and Mitt Romney will know -- that the incredible momentum after Florida, everyone was saying, you know what, February is going to be easy, homerun into Super Tuesday, game over.

It looks a very different picture now, you have to admit that.

CHRISTIE: Sure. I'm so shocked that the pundits were wrong.


CHRISTIE: Please, I've got to fall over in absolute shock. We'll need to take a moment to revive me and continue the interview --

MORGAN: Do you want a moment of silence --

CHRISTIE: Listen, they were -- they were wrong. And they continue to be wrong. People will decide this election, the people in the Republican Party. And I believe that in the end, Mitt Romney will get the majority of delegates he needs to get. But, you know, listen, you guys have lots of time to fill on the cable news networks. And so you've got to talk about something. So --

MORGAN: Yes, but the Santorum surge is a juicy bone. It's exciting. And --

CHRISTIE: Well, congratulations.

MORGAN: Yes, but --

CHRISTIE: But that doesn't mean I've got to buy it. MORGAN: No, but it's real. It's happening. There is a Santorum surge.

CHRISTIE: Listen, he won -- he won three caucuses in an evening, congratulations. And that's great. Good for him. And I --

MORGAN: You're not feeling the surge?

CHRISTIE: No, I'm really not. I'm really not feeling the surge when we've given out, what, 10 percent of the delegates? You know, talk to me when we're at 50, 60 percent of the delegates and then we can start seeing if anybody has got a surge yet or not.

MORGAN: When these doors shut and you call Mitt Romney -- and I guess you speak all the time -- what are the key things that you think he's not doing or the campaign isn't doing? What's going wrong? What does he need to do now to get back on track?

CHRISTIE: You think I'm telling you that? I mean --

MORGAN: Why, you might --

CHRISTIE: Well, listen, no. When I have --

MORGAN: You might give me a few little teases.

CHRISTIE: Definitely not. When I have advice to give to Mitt Romney, I give it to Mitt Romney and not to anybody else.

MORGAN: But if you were being critical of him in the campaign?

CHRISTIE: I won't be.

MORGAN: Why not?

CHRISTIE: Not publicly. When --

MORGAN: Well, you have been.

CHRISTIE: No, I haven't.

MORGAN: You have, when he didn't release his tax returns.

CHRISTIE: That was a suggestion --

MORGAN: You went on national television --

CHRISTIE: By the way, that was a suggestion --

MORGAN: You said he should release the tax returns.

CHRISTIE: Yes. And I had already made the suggestion to him.

MORGAN: Right. So what suggestions have you already made to him that you could now repeat to me?

CHRISTIE: None that I'm telling you.


MORGAN: There's an inconsistency there, Governor.

CHRISTIE: No, there is not.

MORGAN: There is.

CHRISTIE: There isn't.

MORGAN: But you know what I'm getting at. People, I think, look at you as the passion part of the vehicle. You know, that you're in his engine and you're the one giving it all the passion. They need it from Mitt Romney. He's the candidate. He's the guy that has to somehow now find another gear. And I suppose what I'm getting at is where is that gear going to come from? What have we not seen so far?

CHRISTIE: It's going to come from inside him. And if it doesn't, he won't win. I mean listen, at the end of the day, I'm a surrogate, I'm a supporter. And I'll do everything I can to help him win the nomination and win the presidency. But in the end, he has to win the nomination. He has to win the presidency.

So where will the next gear come from? If it's going to come from some place, it's going to come from right in here. And that's part of the reason why we have campaigns, is for people to test that and to judge it. I've seen it one-on-one and I believe it's there. And I believe the American people are going to see it. But it's not my responsibility, at the end of the day, to make that happen, Piers. I'll do everything I can to help him. I'll give him advice privately. I'll say things publicly when I think it's appropriate to say them publicly.

But what I won't do is get him elected. I can't. Nor can anyone else. That's up to Mitt Romney.

MORGAN: Let's take a break, come back and talk specifically about the economy. And I want to talk to you about what Mitt Romney said about, apparently not caring about the poor.

Do you care about the poor, Governor?

CHRISTIE: I sure do. And so does he.

MORGAN: Let's explore that in a moment.


MORGAN: Governor, let's talk about the economy, because there's no doubt that despite your best efforts to portray it as a continuing fiasco, the American economy is improving and that is good news for Barack Obama. And you can see it in the latest poll ratings. The figures out today in one poll I read showed that his approval rating in New Jersey is significantly up now in where it was in November.

So this has to be a concern for the Republicans as they go into the proper election battle, doesn't it?

CHRISTIE: Well, first of all, I don't think it's my obligation to characterize the economy as a fiasco. I mean here in New Jersey, things are getting better. The New Jersey comeback has begun here. And we've taken a lot of affirmative steps beyond what's happened in Washington to put people back to work, 60,000 new private sector jobs since I've been governor.

But the fact is, the president should be judged on the entirety of his term. And if, in fact, he took the steps that were necessary and appropriate right from the beginning to be able to make our economy even better than what it is today. And so, you know, listen, I think there's going to be a real robust debate this fall on what the proper role of government is in the economy and whether or not the Obama approach has been successful or successful enough, and whether another approach by our nominee, Governor Romney, would be better.

MORGAN: Did you approve, instinctively, yourself, of the bailout of the auto industry?

CHRISTIE: Listen, you know, I've got to tell you the truth, I didn't spend a lot of time thinking about it because what I was doing at the time --

MORGAN: But now that I've asked you to think about it?

CHRISTIE: Well, yes, but -- I mean, you know, I actually try to give things more thought than just three or four seconds before I give you an opinion. I'll tell you what I was worried about --

MORGAN: You've only given it three or four seconds thought?

CHRISTIE: Right now, since you just asked me, and that was the context within which you put it.


MORGAN: Well, let me reframe the question.

CHRISTIE: But the fact of the matter is, what I was working on at the time that that was going on was getting elected governor in a state that had over 10 percent unemployment, that had $13 billion worth of deficits, that had 115 tax and fee increases in the eight years before I became governor.

I had enough of a mess on my hands here, Piers, to deal with what I had to deal with here and not have to deal with --

MORGAN: But you know why I'm asking you. I'm asking you because Mitt Romney has come under fire for continuing to be critical of the bailout, even when you have GM releasing some record profits, which are clearly indicative that the bailout has worked.

CHRISTIE: Well, listen, when you have Mitt Romney on, you should ask him.

MORGAN: But what do you think?

CHRISTIE: Well, listen, as I just told you, I haven't spent a lot of time thinking about it.

MORGAN: You don't have a view of the bailout of the American auto industry?

CHRISTIE: What I have is, what I have is a view of what's happening here in this state because that's my job.

MORGAN: No, I get that. But you --

CHRISTIE: Of course I know you get it.

MORGAN: But I also --

CHRISTIE: But you want to continue to ask. I'm not going to give you a better answer --

MORGAN: No, no.

CHRISTIE: -- than the one I've given you.

MORGAN: No, but I'm getting --

CHRISTIE: So we're going to continue to go back and forth on this.


CHRISTIE: Or you can move on to the next card because that's where we headed.

MORGAN: No, I'm not going to move on just yet, because the reason I'm asking you is because I'm sensing -- and your reply is giving me this sense even more -- that the reason you don't want to answer it is because you would disagree with Mitt Romney.


MORGAN: You think the bailout was a success.

CHRISTIE: Listen, by the way, I've given the president plenty of credit on things when he deserves it. I --


MORGAN: Does he deserve it for that?

CHRISTIE: -- of education. As I said to you, you can try four or five different ways. I'm not going to give you an opinion on something as complex as that issue until I've had time to really think about it and look at it.

MORGAN: Is it complex?

CHRISTIE: Sure it is. Sure it is. MORGAN: Really?

CHRISTIE: Sure it is.


MORGAN: The auto industry --

CHRISTIE: Spending government money to invest --

MORGAN: The auto industry going bust. Barack Obama decides the way to recover it is to do a big bailout, which he does, which is very controversial, and is a huge national issue that affects everybody, because if GM had gone under or whatever it may be --


MORGAN: -- huge problems for the country. And it indisputably worked. And I suppose I just would like to hear you, if you believe it, say the president was right, he deserves credit.

CHRISTIE: I know that you would like to hear it but I --

MORGAN: If you believe it.

CHRISTIE: Right, sure. And -- but I know you'd like to hear it. And what I'm saying to you is, I'm not giving you an answer on that because I haven't thought through it enough. My job is to be governor of New Jersey. And I know that you think that I'm supposed to be conversant in every national topic at the moment and have an opinion on every national topic and you'd love for me to do that, but I'm not going to.

MORGAN: You drive, you drive a car.

CHRISTIE: But I don't have an opinion. Yes, I do. I -- well, no, not anymore, really. I ride in a car most of the time.


CHRISTIE: They don't let me drive anymore. But I ride in a GM car so, you know.

MORGAN: What is your view ideologically of bailouts?

CHRISTIE: Well, my view is that the government should have as little involvement in the private sector as it possibly can. And does so from a general philosophical perspective, that's where I come from. But we're not going to take the next leap, even though you may try to, into getting into the bailout again.

My view is, when I've had time to look at it and study it, I'll come back out again. I'll give you a really reasoned opinion from my perspective. But, you know, I get in trouble, and rightfully so, when you talk about things that are that important off the cuff. I don't think you should do that. And even though it might be entertaining television, I'm not going to do it.

MORGAN: Are you pleased it's worked?

CHRISTIE: I'm pleased people are working. Any place in America where people are working, whether that's General Motors or Chrysler or Caterpillar or any of the other big companies, Microsoft, IBM, you know, Facebook, I'm pleased when people are working. And there's jobs, like in New Jersey, where we have 60,000 new private sector jobs since I've become governor and unemployment has gone down over a full point. That's the stuff I'm really happy about.

MORGAN: What do you think about this issue, which has exorcised me, but other people don't agree with me about this, that when you take a company like Apple, which is one of the greatest companies ever created, one of America's great companies now, generating hundreds of billions of dollars of profit, that they employ more people in China than they do in America.

Is it not time for companies like Apple, making the kind of money that they're doing, to take a lead and say we're going to take a hit, we're going to bring -- for argument's sake -- 10 percent of that workforce from China back to America?

Because I've always thought if they did that, they would get such goodwill from the American public they'd make up the money anyway.

CHRISTIE: Well, I think we should let businesspeople make those decisions, not government.

MORGAN: Well, I'm trying to help --


MORGAN: I'm trying to help the jobless situation in America --


MORGAN: -- by encouraging big companies to take a moral responsible lead by doing things that aren't necessarily 100 percent in the interest of their ever fattening shareholders.


MORGAN: But are actually in the interest of the national interest.

CHRISTIE: You know, the ever-fattening shareholders, by the way, are the people who have pensions in this country, who are invested in Apple, the people who have IRAs and 401(k)s who are invested in Apple. And so as those become ever fattened, they have more money for their retirement and more money for their kids' education, more money to pay for their mortgages --

MORGAN: No, I agree with you. I'm all in favor of --

CHRISTIE: And so my point is I don't think demagoguing that piece is necessarily a good thing for you to do. Secondly, if you're really concerned about that and you really wanted to do that, then leave CNN, be the CEO of a company, and lead them in a way that's both profitable and beneficial to all the different people you want to be beneficial for. I think that would be fine.

MORGAN: Is it not a debate that's worth having, though?

CHRISTIE: Sure it is. Have the debate.

MORGAN: That's what I'm trying to do.

CHRISTIE: I think I'm having it with you.

MORGAN: You are. But you're telling me to leave CNN and go and run a company. I'm saying --

CHRISTIE: No, I'm --

MORGAN: I'm saying -- I'm saying --

CHRISTIE: I'm saying if it's that what you want to do --

MORGAN: No, but --

CHRISTIE: If you want to -- if you want to set policy, if you want to set policy --

MORGAN: No, I don't want to set policy --

CHRISTIE: -- then go to those places.

MORGAN: No, it's not about setting policy. It's about whether enough people with influence, like yourself --


MORGAN: -- went out and publicly called on very successful American companies to actually bring some of the workforce from -- specifically China, back to America, by doing it in a way that doesn't necessarily fit their shareholder needs for ever more profit, but serves the American national interest. Wouldn't that be a good thing?

CHRISTIE: Well, I think what would be a good thing is for us to allow the people, the shareholders and the executives of those companies, to make their decisions. And to the extent that anybody feels as if they want to speak out on some of those things, they should speak out in an informed way and do that.

But the fact is that Apple has been pretty successful doing what it's doing and it's been very successful for its shareholders, many of whom are people who live in middle America, are middle class folks who are counting on Apple's success, not only for the products that they produce, but also for the profits they're producing that help their retirement, help their kids' college education funds, and help them to pay the bills and from day to day.

And so I think these -- the fact that Apple is successful is a good thing just even absent the jobs piece, it's a good thing for America. And if there's more jobs, that's great.

MORGAN: When Mitt Romney came out with his -- I think my (INAUDIBLE) saying clumsily worded comment about apparently not caring about the poor, and I think we sort of knew what he was getting at, but it sounded bad. And coming on the back of his other comments about a 10 grand bet and so on, it sort of -- it allowed this sense that he's disconnected from real Americans to get ever more attention.

What did you make of that when he said it? What do you think about the -- where the priorities should lie? Because whichever you play that clip, even if you play every single word, and you take him exactly on the context you wanted it to sound like, he's still prioritizing middle class Americans in his head over the poor, isn't it?

CHRISTIE: All I could tell you is what I do. And my view is, here in New Jersey, that I'm responsible for every New Jerseyan, no matter how much money they make, no matter where they live, no matter how many children they have, whether they've lived here their whole lives or they just moved here, whether their kids are in school or whether they're retired and living on a fixed income.

As the governor, as the president, you have to be responsible for everyone. And you need to care about everyone the exact same way. And as governor, my view is all of them deserve our attention. Of course we're not going to let the most vulnerable suffer and we haven't in New Jersey and we shouldn't in America.

But on the other hand, I'm not going to get into this class warfare business, where certain people are more important than others or deserve more attention than others. Everyone deserves attention in our country. Everyone deserves to have the government be responsive to their concerns and their needs.

MORGAN: Before we go to a break, let me just clarify that. I mean do you really believe that Warren Buffet, for example, is more deserving of --

CHRISTIE: I'm so tired of talking about Warren Buffet. What are you going to bring up next, his secretary? I mean this is the --

MORGAN: I can come to the secretary.

CHRISTIE: This is the old song. What I'm saying to you is --

MORGAN: No, no, I was going to --

CHRISTIE: Don't twist what I said.

MORGAN: I wasn't --

CHRISTIE: Piers --

MORGAN: No, no, no.

CHRISTIE: The most vulnerable -- MORGAN: You haven't even heard the question.

CHRISTIE: I know the question.

MORGAN: What's the question?

CHRISTIE: I -- the most vulnerable --

MORGAN: What's the question?

CHRISTIE: Do you really think Warren Buffet needs as much attention from the government as the most vulnerable?


CHRISTIE: OK. Thank you. Let's go to a break.

MORGAN: What's the answer?

CHRISTIE: I got the question right.

MORGAN: What's the answer?

CHRISTIE: Since I got the question right, I'm not answering the question, how about that? That's my gift for getting your question right when --

MORGAN: We're going to take a break --

CHRISTIE: When you think I didn't have it right.

MORGAN: We're going to take a break and them --


MORGAN: I'm going to reward you for getting my question by making you answer.


MORGAN: You've agreed.


CHRISTIE: With your point.




CHRISTIE: Today, we will maintain both our fiscal discipline, and drive New Jersey into the new era of growth. Today, it is time to put the New Jersey comeback into high gear.



PIERS MORGAN, HOST: So, Governor, we -- we left everyone on a cliffhanger there --


MORGAN: -- where I was trying to press you to say -- and I think it's a valid question. I obviously do.

CHRISTIE: I know you do. That's why you're asking it.

MORGAN: Because I think every politician has to prioritize and particularly if you're the president or a state governor.

You know, is it right that, taking your argument to its natural conclusion that Warren Buffet is as much in your head for his economic situation as the poorest person in New Jersey?

CHRISTIE: Well, first of all, Warren Buffet doesn't live in New Jersey --

MORGAN: But if he --

CHRISTIE: -- so I don't have to worry about him.

MORGAN: -- if he did.

CHRISTIE: Secondly, that's not what I said. And you say that's the logical conclusion of my statement and I disagree with you.

Let's look at what I've done in New Jersey, OK? And that's the best gauge to gauge men and to judge a politician. Not what they say in a talk show with you, but what they've done.

And in two years, what we have done is to protect the most vulnerable here, even when we had to cut $13 billion of big spending over two years, increased funding to hospitals to take care of the poor, to make sure charity care was available to them, increased funding to federally qualified health centers to make sure that people have access to health care, made sure that people at the lowest rung of our economy were being taken care of.

And so, of course, during difficult economic times, you're most concerned about the people who have the potential to suffer the most.

MORGAN: That's all I wanted to hear.

CHRISTIE: And -- and that's --

MORGAN: Yes, but that's the only option out there.


CHRISTIE: But that's logical. MORGAN: Now, Governor, you've handed over your budget today for New Jersey. And one of the key planks of this is you want to have a 10 percent income tax reduction for everyone in New Jersey.


MORGAN: Very controversial. Tell me about this.

CHRISTIE: It's part of what I was talking about earlier. Everybody shared in the sacrifice in terms of the two years leading up to this, the difficult choices we had to make in the budget.

You know, the fact is, tax policy should be fair to everybody. And what we're doing here in New Jersey is everyone will get a 10 percent tax cut. Everyone will get their taxes reduced.

And even those who don't pay income taxes, Piers, we're going to increase the earned income tax credit by 20 percent. So even if you don't pay income taxes, as long as you have a job, we're going to help to bridge you through these difficult times by increasing the earned income tax credit by 20 percent.

And they've earned the right to keep some of that money because, believe me, if they send it down here, the people down the hall will figure out a way to spend it. I'd rather have them keep it, invest it in their families and -- and let them decide how to spend that money.

MORGAN: How many billionaires are there in New Jersey?

CHRISTIE: I don't know the answer to that question.

MORGAN: Roughly?

CHRISTIE: I -- really, I have not a clue.

MORGAN: But they're all --

CHRISTIE: How about this, the top 1 percent of people in New Jersey pay 41 percent of the income tax.

MORGAN: But are all the billionaires in New Jersey, under this plan, going to get 10 percent income tax reduction?

CHRISTIE: Everybody will get 10 percent. Every person.

MORGAN: You know where I'm going at with that.

CHRISTIE: I understand where you're going at.

MORGAN: Warren Buffet keeps screaming to be taxed more.

CHRISTIE: Yes, well, he should just write a check and shut up.


CHRISTIE: Really, and just contribute, OK? I mean, you know, the fact of the matter is that I'm tired of hearing about it. If he wants to give the government more money, he's got the ability to write a check, go ahead and write it.

MORGAN: Let's talk about some of the other big social issues which are raging at the moment. Certainly in New Jersey, the whole issue of gay marriage has blown up. You're suggesting that you may bring a referendum on this so that the people of New Jersey can vote.

Tell me about the thinking behind that.

CHRISTIE: Well, first off, my view and my position is that marriage should be between one man and one woman. That always has been my position and it remains so. I ran that way in 2009, told people that. It was an issue in the campaign. I made myself very clear.

And now that the legislature has passed that piece of legislation, then I will veto it, because that's what I promised to do and that's what I think is the right thing to do.

However, I know that this is a very emotional issue and a divisive issue in my state.

And so what I've suggested to the legislature is, in a way that we always -- the only way we have to amend our constitution in New Jersey, which is by referendum, let's put it on the ballot and let's let people decide. And if the people of New Jersey, as -- as some in the same sex marriage advocates suggest the polls indicate, are in favor of it, then my position would not be the winning position. But I'm willing to take that risk because I trust the people of the state.

MORGAN: Are you worried -- I mean, I know you're a Catholic, as is Rick Santorum, as am I. And so, it's -- it's, you know, it's a hot debate for any Catholic, never mind a politician, but for a Catholic.

Are you concerned, though, that as a politician who is very ambitious and may well have presidential aspirations in the future -- and I'm not even asking you, because we'll just assume that's a given, otherwise why would you be in politics --

CHRISTIE: I -- well, as a -- listen, you're just lucky I'm going to let you go on that one, but I --


MORGAN: Maybe we'll come back to it.

But are you worried you're -- you're beginning to be slightly out of touch, given that seven states now, I think, have legalized gay marriage, Washington being the latest, given that others are likely to follow?

CHRISTIE: Wait a second.

MORGAN: Are you not --

CHRISTIE: So, you're suggesting that because my position is in step with 43 of the 50 states, that proves I'm out of step?

MORGAN: Well, it would have been in step with 50 of the states, but now it's only 43. And my point is --

CHRISTIE: That's still a pretty healthy majority.

MORGAN: Yes, but at what stage does it become politically strange?

CHRISTIE: I won't compromise my principles for politics.

MORGAN: Ever? Ever?

CHRISTIE: No, not my principles.

MORGAN: You would never change your mind about this?

CHRISTIE: I would not compromise my principles for politics.

You're saying will it become politically unpopular to have the position I'm having? If it does, so be it. I don't compromise my principles for politics.

MORGAN: Do you get flak from gay friends for this?

CHRISTIE: Some, yes.

MORGAN: What do they say to you?

CHRISTIE: We have a robust conversation about why I have the position I have and they have the position they have.

MORGAN: Do they -- do they accuse you directly of being bigoted?


MORGAN: Would they have a right to?


MORGAN: It's not a bigoted position?

CHRISTIE: Absolutely not.

MORGAN: How do you characterize it -- because Rick Santorum, as you know, has taken huge heat for being apparently bigoted. He always says I'm being biblical, you know, this is my religious belief.

CHRISTIE: Well, listen, it's my belief. It's my core belief. And I tell people that. And my friends, whether they be homosexual or not, know me and they know that I'm not bigoted.

MORGAN: What do you think about the issue over contraception? Again, I guess because you're a Catholic, you would be opposed to it?

CHRISTIE: Listen, I don't have -- I don't have any problem with people using contraception. I think it's a personal choice. MORGAN: It's as simple as that?


MORGAN: What do you think about the whole debate that came out recently?

CHRISTIE: I think it's a distraction and I think -- and I think that, you know, while it's a very important issue and that there are people who feel fiercely on both sides of the question of ObamaCare, not on contraception, although there is some debate about that as well. But I think the larger debate that's being had here is the issue of -- of ObamaCare and -- and the -- and the strictures that are being put in place --


MORGAN: Their argument is that -- is that the mandate, I think in New Jersey, there's been a mandate that has --

CHRISTIE: Sure, there is.

MORGAN: -- that has allowed people who work for Catholic institutions to actually have birth control.

Are you personally in favor of that?

CHRISTIE: Well, listen, you know, that's the law of the state and the legislature has put it in effect long before I came here and it's my job to enforce the law.

But the fact is that this is a debate for the folks to have who are on the, you know, on the national ticket. They're having that, the folks who are running in the primary. And from my perspective, I think that we should get on to other issues at this point. I think this one has been fairly well beaten over at this point.

Everyone has their positions. The president has his, which he's changed over the course of the past couple of weeks, pretty significantly. So maybe, I guess, his first position wasn't a principled position, because now he's backed off it, because he got political heat.

That's the difference between the president and I. You know, if I have a principled position, I'm going to stick by it. He had what I have to assume was a principled position on it. And he's already backed off it and -- and he seems to continue to be backpedaling.

MORGAN: Let's take another break.

I want to come back -- we've been running a theme on the show about keeping America great. And we have skirted to run a few issues here, but I want to come back and directly get out of you what you think America needs to do, as a country, to keep itself great.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) MORGAN: Governor, let's talk about keeping America great, because I think it's a more positive way than saying America's got huge problems, we've all had it, we're all doomed.

What do you think the essence is of keeping America great? What do Americans need to be thinking about?

CHRISTIE: I think the American people should be thinking about the extraordinary gifts that this country makes available to them, of opportunity, of the ability to be able to live where you want to live, to pick the career you want to pick, and to really be restricted in this country, still today, only by what your own ambition and your willingness to work hard and to strive for.

And I think if you look around the world, we are still really unique in someone being able to come here and do whatever they want. If you look at a guy like Mark Zuckerberg, who's about to become famously wealthy, officially, in the next couple of months, you know, a kid sitting in his dorm room at Harvard who then turns around and creates a company that has 850 million members now and maybe $100 billion worth. It's --

MORGAN: That's the American Dream at its best, isn't it?

CHRISTIE: Only in America. Yes. It's only in America that you get a great idea.

It started with a great idea, but it wasn't just that. He worked. I know Mark. He worked extraordinarily hard. He cares deeply about the product that he's putting out there and about the influence he's having on society.

And so, you know, that's still available for everybody in America. That's what we need to focus on, is to make sure that government doesn't do anything, from a governmental perspective, to restrict Americans' ability to both do it and dream it.

MORGAN: You've handed over your budget today in New Jersey. Obviously, a bit of a difference between your budget of $29.4 billion and Barack Obama's last one, of $3.73 trillion.

You would accept that?

CHRISTIE: Yes, I would.

MORGAN: What has been the ideology, though, behind your decision- making for the New Jersey budget? How could that apply successfully, in your view, to America?

CHRISTIE: Make the difficult decisions without regard to anything other than what you think is in the best interests of the state. So, for instance, we have a huge Medicare and Medicaid problem at the federal level. Here in New Jersey, we have huge -- have had a huge pension benefit problem.

We passed pension benefit reform. We're seeing the benefit from that in our budget now for that.

But at the same time, I'm going to be making the single largest contribution to the public pension system that any governor has made, over a billion dollars contribution in one year in this budget.

And so, you need to do keep faith with the people who are counting on you, but you also need to make the difficult decisions and ask everybody to sacrifice.

So if I say one phrase that captures -- captures what we have been trying to do: shared sacrifice, shared benefits.

MORGAN: You were a federal prosecutor.


MORGAN: You fought 130 case?

CHRISTIE: In political corruption, we won 130 cases without a defeat.

MORGAN: You never lost?


MORGAN: Have you ever lost an election?


MORGAN: How many?

CHRISTIE: A few. Two.

MORGAN: What did you learn about yourself from the defeats?

CHRISTIE: Always to be yourself and not to get -- listen to people in your ear, the consultants and the others who try to tack you and turn you and color you, but to be yourself, because then you have no regrets. And I think earlier in my political life, I maybe listened to those folks more than I should have.

And later on, both in my time as a prosecutor and now as governor, I'm just myself. And there are ups and downs to that, of being yourself. But I'm human and people see who I am.

MORGAN: Can you be true to yourself completely as president or is the job simply too, now, predicated on having to deals all the time with the opposition to get anything done?

CHRISTIE: I don't think the two are mutually exclusive. I think you can be true to yourself and still make bargains with people, make compromises.

I don't think compromise is a dirty work, Piers. I'm doing it all the time here in New Jersey and accomplishing really great things.

MORGAN: People have said to me about Chris Christie, I love that guy. He's a fighter. He's a character. He says the right thing at the right time -- all the things you'd want to hear if you ever had aspirations to be a presidential candidate.

Can we assume that at some stage, you might run?

CHRISTIE: I don't think you can assume it, because, you know, only God knows what life brings you. You know, there's an old Yiddish saying, you know, men plan, God laughs, you know?

And so, I think, you know, what I want to do is do this job as best I can. And if later on, there's opportunities that come my way, challenges that I want to take on, that include the presidency, I certainly would not preclude that.

MORGAN: The one thing I don't get in all this with you supporting Mitt Romney and so on, is I can -- I can never see you -- I don't -- I don't not get that. He's a very capable man and politician. But I don't get you ever playing second fiddle to somebody in any official capacity. I couldn't see you being a vice president, for example.

CHRISTIE: I've said that all along. I think it isn't likely I'll be asked.

MORGAN: It's not your bag, is it, to do that kind of thing?

CHRISTIE: I -- no. I've said over and over again that, you know, I think I'm much better as a principal than as a second fiddle. I think my personality is more like that. And so, that's why I've said all along that I think it's highly unlikely that I would ever be vice president of the United States.

MORGAN: But maybe president?

CHRISTIE: Who knows?

You know, life has brought me some amazing twists and turns. Being here in this office, I will tell you, it's amazing to me in and of itself. And so, if life has some more twists and turns for me and opportunities for me to do good and to feel fulfilled and to do some good for my country, that's given me so much, that would be a great opportunity.

But I have no idea whether that's going to happen or not and neither do you. In the end, you just be true to yourself and follow your inner compass. That's what I try to do every day.

MORGAN: Governor, thank you very much.

CHRISTIE: Thank you.

MORGAN: I thoroughly enjoyed seeing your office. Can I see the rest of the statehouse?

CHRISTIE: Absolutely. It's a great place, the second longest operating statehouse in America. Let's go see it.


MORGAN: What's in your head? What was that -- what's the demeanor you're trying to create as you march in?

CHRISTIE: I'm trying to be in charge, and to -- to give off the minute I walk through this door, to give all of the people who will be sitting here, the people of the gallery, the sense that I'm in charge. I'm the governor. And I think it's so important that people have that image of the person that does that.

MORGAN: It's like a mini senate, isn't it?

CHRISTIE: It is. It's a beautiful -- look at the chamber, it's a beautiful chamber. That's where I stand?

MORGAN: When you're standing there doing your thing -- I mean, this looks like the senate to me -- when you're standing there doing your thing, you must -- your mind must occasionally flash forward to a slightly bigger stage, doesn't it?

CHRISTIE: What it --

MORGAN: What it would be like to do a State of the Union also.

CHRISTIE: I'll tell you what it does, what I think. I sit here and think to myself, how did a guy from like two regular middle class parents in Livingston get here? That's what -- it's inescapable. It's time I've given -- now, two state of states and three budget addresses.

MORGAN: Unlike Barack Obama, you know, often to leave his (INAUDIBLE) die on arrival, for you, your reputation is that you get these things through and delivered. That must bring with it a certain, I guess a nerve, that comes with it where you think, it's going to be a bit tougher to live up to my reputation.

CHRISTIE: Yes, I think it does. You know, I think it's good, though, to have that edge, to not to take anything for granted. Like I have to sing for supper, Piers, I've got to prove to the people of this legislature, to the people of the state, that my plan is to right direction to take our state in, that I'm willing to fight for it.

MORGAN: That's a key thing for any politician at any level, and we touched on this earlier. It's not just having good ideas, you've got to have the negotiating skill to actually get passed and delivered and come into practice. I mean, that is really what being a politician is all about, isn't it?

CHRISTIE: Yes, it's about accomplishments, yes.

MORGAN: That's why you're called politicians.

CHRISTIE: Yes. I think, listen, politics -- I've always thought politics as the art of the possible. And it's not my phrase, it's someone else's, but I've always believed it's the part of the possible. You know, what can -- what is possible that you can make a reality? To me, it's not just about giving speeches because if you do that, people are going to tire of that relatively quickly. It's about -- in the American parlance, it's about putting touchdowns in the end zone, you know? It's about scoring, it's about accomplishing.

And it's what relationships you develop along the way that allows people to trust you. that when I look across to the senate president and I say to him, if you do this, I promise you I'll deliver that, he's got to know that I will. He's got to trust me.

And that's doesn't happen like this, especially with people in the opposite party. So, you have to spend time on relationships. And I try to do that, and I think it's been successful to some extent.

MORGAN: Coming up next, tonight's "Only in America" remains with Chris Christie. Does size matter?


MORGAN: Tonight, "Only in America," Chris Christie can balance a budget. He still struggles to balance a scale.

Is physical size even be an issue when it comes to political stardom? This is what the governor told me:


MORGAN: I couldn't help but notice, you're slightly trimmer, Governor.

CHRISTIE: I'm working on it.

MORGAN: Am I right?

CHRISTIE: listen, yes, you are. But it is a regular struggle.

MORGAN: You have lost quite a little weight since I last saw you?

CHRISTIE: A little bit. We don't, you know, we don't take any victory laps in this battle, Piers. I've been going through it for, you know, 20-plus years. So --

MORGAN: You're now on a bit of a mission?

CHRISTIE: You know, I'm intermittently on a mission on this stuff. I want -- that's why I'm very reluctant to say anything more than I'm just trying to be healthier, I'm eating better, I have been working with a trainer on a regular basis and worked before we met today.

And I'm trying because, you know, I'm getting ready to be 50. I'll be 50 this fall, and I'm starting to feel my own mortality. And I got to be around for my kids and hopefully for grandchildren. And so, you start to think about it that way that you don't really think about it as a younger man.

MORGAN: Well, it's working.

CHRISTIE: We're trying.

MORGAN: Keep going, Governor.

CHRISTIE: Thank you, Piers. Thanks for being here.


MORGAN: Good for Governor Christie.

Now, it must said, Chris Christie is hardly the first politician to battle his weight. We go by body mass index, at least five American presidents were technically obese. William Howard Taft who tipped the scale at 345 pounds. He actually needed a special White House bathtub going with his size. Also, Grover Cleveland, William McKinley, Zachary Taylor and Teddy Roosevelt, even Bill Clinton was considered overweight at his peak with BMI of 28.3.

So, if size matters, maybe it makes a politician more, not less, presidential. Maybe -- just maybe -- Chris Christie is getting in shape for a run in 2016. A real run.

But other way, it shouldn't be the weight of his body that counts. It should be the weight of his policies.

That's all for us tonight. Tomorrow night, CNN's Arizona Republican presidential debate is live at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

"A.C. 360" starts now.