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CNN Live Event/Special
CNN Republican Presidential Town Hall With Chris Christie. Aired 8-9:35p ET
Aired June 12, 2023 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening from New York and welcome to this 360 CNN Town Hall with former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. I'm Anderson Cooper.
Tonight, on the eve of former President Donald Trump's arraignment in Miami on 37 federal counts, we're going to hear directly from Governor Christie who announced his candidacy just six days ago.
Christie, as you know, ran in 2016, dropped out after New Hampshire, and endorsed then-candidate Trump two weeks later.
Christie enters the race again dominated by the former president, will be battling a growing number of rivals for the chance to take on President Joe Biden.
Tonight, voters will have the opportunity to question the former governor directly about the issues on their minds. And I'll have a chance to ask questions of my own.
This town hall is part of the Republican primary process. And so, the audience tonight are voters who say they plan to participate in their state's Republican nominating contest. The audience comes from New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, as well as the four Republican early primary states -- Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada.
To find tonight's questioners, we reached out to Republican-affiliated business groups, also young professional and advocacy organizations. A few guests of the Christie campaign are also in the family -- in the audience, as well as the family members. They will not be asking any questions however.
We've asked everyone here to be respectful to voters in the room and at home so they have a chance to hear from the candidate.
Please welcome former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
COOPER: How's it going?
FORMER GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Good to see you, Anderson. How are you? COOPER: Thanks very much.
So, we've got a lot of questions in the audience.
COOPER: Before we get to that, before you decided to run, I know you talked to your wife, Mary Pat, and your kids, some of whom are here in the room tonight. I'm not going to ask you if they tried to talk you out of it. But what was the case you made to them about why you wanted to be president?
CHRISTIE: I should say, it was kind of the opposite. It was really Mary Pat making the case to me, why she thought that it was necessary to do it.
You know, she'd been involved in my life for the last nearly 40 years now between dating and being married, and she said to me, look, you have a unique set of skills that need to be in this race. And you need to do this. And she was making the argument to me.
So, Anderson, when your wife makes the argument to you, and you're the candidate -- go. Just go. Don't ask any questions, and just go.
COOPER: You said the other day, Donald Trump is a TV star, nothing more, nothing less, and that, quote, if we put him back in the White House, the reruns will be worse than the original show was.
CHRISTIE: Oh, because he's so angry now. He's angry and he's vengeful. And he said, I will be your retribution.
Well, I don't think -- I don't want him to be my retribution. I don't need him to do that, and I don't think anybody in America needs it either.
He wants to be retribution for himself. I am convinced that if he goes back to the White House, that the next four years will be all about him settling scores, Anderson, with everybody who he thinks wasn't perfectly nice to him, you know?
And the bottom line is that if you're lucky enough to become the president of the United States, every day, you should wake up thinking about what you do for the people of this country, not what scores you need to settle for yourself. And he has shown himself -- and I think most particularly in his post-presidency -- to be completely self- centered, completely self-consumed, and doesn't give a damn about the American people, in my view, if what the American people want is in conflict with what Donald Trump is best for him.
And I don't think that's who we want sitting behind the desk in the Oval Office.
COOPER: I want to ask you about the indictments that we've seen. Yesterday, former Attorney General Bill Barr called the indictment, quote, very damning, and he said, if even half of it is true, then he's toast.
You're a former U.S. attorney. Is he right?
CHRISTIE: It is a very tight, very detailed, evidence-laden indictment. And the conduct in there is awful.
I mean, put aside taking the documents in the first place. But then when you start getting asked, Anderson, in May of '21, nicely with a letter from the archivists say, can you please give them back? And you ignore it, ignore it, ignore it.
Then, they come with a grand jury subpoena, and then according to the indictment, you tell your lawyers, tell them we don't have anything -- even though you have dozens and dozens of boxes of material. That's obstruction of justice if it's true.
And so I think the former attorney general is absolutely right. And look, I did this for seven years in New Jersey.
We did 130 political corruption prosecutions without a loss. What I can tell you for sure I know about that indictment is there's probably about a third of the evidence they actually have is in that indictment.
COOPER: There's a lot more.
CHRISTIE: There will guaranteed be a lot more. When you're a prosecutor, you never put every card on the table before the trial. And so, there's going to be a lot more.
COOPER: As indictments go -- you have a lot of experience with indictments. This one is very detailed.
CHRISTIE: It is. It's what we call in the business, a speaking indictment because remember, when you're the prosecutor, you can't comment beyond what's in the four corners of that document.
So, I think that Jack Smith understood that the person people were going to need a fulsome explanation if you're going to bring an indictment against the former president of the United States. And I think he's right. So, that is much more detail than you'd see in the typical indictment.
But also don't be fooled. There's a lot more information to come when they go to trial, specifically, I think, there are going to be a lot of witnesses who actually worked for Donald Trump who are now going to be testifying against him.
COOPER: In the 37 counts, what, to you, is the most egregious?
CHRISTIE: Well, the most? Can I give the three most? I mean, you know, because there's so much.
I mean, first -- first, it's the nature of the documents that he kept. I mean, battle plans against Iran, nuclear secrets, the presidential daily brief, which has the most important intelligence information that anyone in the country can get.
These are not his personal documents. This isn't, like, his doodle notes on his pad or, like, a nice, you know, newspaper article about himself. These are intelligence documents created by the government of the United States. It's our property, and the government is supposed to have that stuff, not laying around. That's one.
Two, to suggest to your lawyers that they should lie in response to a grand jury subpoena -- I've had a number of people ask me, why did his lawyer make those voice memos about each meeting? I know why he did because this guy was asking him to lie and break the law, and he wanted a contemporaneous recording of exactly what was happening when it was happening because he also knew that Donald Trump, as he's done before, would throw his lawyer under the bus and say his lawyer was lying.
The third thing is he is voluntarily putting our country through this. If at any point before the search in August of '22 he had just done what anyone I suspect in this audience would have done which is said, all right, you're serious? You're serving a grand jury subpoena? Let me just give the documents back.
He wouldn't have been charged. Wouldn't have been charged with anything, even though he had kept them for almost a year and a half.
COOPER: None of this had to happen.
CHRISTIE: None of this would have happened. This is all him saying -- again, it was what I was saying at the top. He's saying, I'm more important than the country. These are my papers.
You saw in the indictment that his employees were scared. They would call (ph) them, his boxes. His boxes. He wants his boxes near him.
He flew the boxes up to New Jersey for summer vacation. What is this, like, they're a family member? I mean, seriously, I've got to have my boxes with me.
And let me ask you a question. What exactly was he doing with them? Did someone remind him he's not the president anymore?
You don't need these things anymore. This is vanity run amuck, Anderson, run amuck. Ego run amuck.
And he is going to put this country --
COOPER: What --
CHRISTIE: -- through this when we didn't have to go through it. Everyone's blaming the prosecutors. He did it. It's his conduct.
COOPER: You know him very well.
CHRISTIE: Yes. COOPER: Why do you think he did it? I mean --
CHRISTIE: He couldn't -- he cannot live with the fact that he lost to Joe Biden. He can't live with it.
And, look, I watched the way Joe Biden's performing, I'd be pretty bummed out, too, if I had lost to Joe Biden. But the fact is, he did.
And he wants to continue to pretend he's president. He wants the trappings of the presidency around him. And I think one of those trappings is these documents that he could wave around to people as they detail in the indictment, this is secret. I can't show you. I might have been able to show you but now I can't, but this is what it's about.
I had someone call me right after the raid last August and say, you know him so well, is he trying to sell these things to a foreign government? Is he trying to blackmail somebody? I said, oh, for God's sake, stop.
This is just to show off. It's just to show off. And it turned out to be right.
This -- and that's what makes it so ridiculous that we're here and we're in a situation where there are people in my own party who are blaming DOJ. How about blame him? He did it. He kept -- he took documents he wasn't supposed to take. He kept them when he asked them back for them?
They got a grand jury subpoena. He refused to comply. They raided his home finally because he refused to comply. That -- all those things were brought on himself, as was this indictment.
COOPER: I just want to -- a number of Republicans have been reluctant to talk about the substance of actually what's in --
CHRISTIE: I had noticed.
COOPER: I know you've noticed -- including Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. He tweeted, quote, the weaponization of federal law enforcement represents a mortal threat to a free society.
Why do you think they're not addressing what's actually in the indictment?
CHRISTIE: Because it's indefensible and they're playing games.
Look, you all need to know this. They're playing political games with you because they think he's kind of like Trump a little bit and I don't see anything bad about Trump. And then Trump kind of implodes and goes away, then you're more likely to vote for me.
How about we do this? How about you decide who is the most honest, forthright leader who has common sense and will put you first and let's put that person behind the desk in the Oval Office?
How about we stop these games? And I think that's a game where you want -- and, look. I've said this before, Anderson. I was someone who thought Hillary Clinton should have been prosecuted, and I think it was wrong.
And I think Jim Comey made a mess of the FBI and he made a mess of that case. Loretta Lynch, I don't know what she was thinking about in letting Jim Comey announce that no reasonable prosecutor would prosecute that case. He's the FBI director. It's not your decision. It's the attorney general's decision.
And that has made some Republicans rightfully feel like there's two standards. We can have that argument and we should. And we should have that argument because it's wrong.
And I can tell you this, if I'm president of the United States, one thing you can count on for sure, there's going to be an attorney general who I say to him or her, day one, go do your job, and unless you need me for something, leave me alone. Just go and do your job without fear or favor or partisanship.
And that's what we need as an attorney general. And I think we can have that argument and discussion, and we should. But that should not allow these other candidates to then say, oh, but I don't want to talk about anything else.
I saw Lee Zeldin yesterday tying himself in knots to not answer, what do you think of the conduct?
Look, everybody, whether you like Donald Trump or you don't like Donald Trump, this conduct is inexcusable, in my opinion, for somebody who wants to be president of the United States.
Let's say, for instance, I'm looking at these two leading candidates right now, at Joe Biden and at Donald Trump. Let's say it's 60 years now since the Cuban missile crisis. Let's say there was a Cuban missile crisis again.
And by the way, China's putting surveillance in Cuba as we speak. So, this is not a far-fetched example.
Do you think Joe Biden could actually handle it? Do you think he's up to it at his age? And secondly, would you trust Donald Trump's judgment after all of this to handle something like that?
I think the answer to both those questions is no, and that's why I'm running for president.
COOPER: The special counsel, Jack Smith, has said he wants a speedy trial while protecting the former president's rights.
Do you think this will go to trial before the election?
CHRISTIE: Yeah, I do. Yeah. I think it could go to election -- I think it could go to trial this winter because -- I don't want to get too in the weeds as a former prosecutor. But they have something in south Florida called the "rocket docket".
They're a district -- southern district of Florida that cares about the Speedy Trial Act, which says 70 days from the day of your initial appearance, which is tomorrow. Now, they won't do that because --
CHRISTIE: -- it's too complex a case.
But could I see this case going to trial in six to eight months from tomorrow? I could.
COOPER: I want to introduce you to George Pierson. He's a student from Waukee, Iowa. He's chair of his college Republican club. He interned for Senator Jo -- Senator Joni Ernst, as well as the American Enterprise Institute. He works part-time at Hy-Vee Grocery Store, and he says he's leaning toward Governor DeSantis.
GEORGE PIERSON, IOWA COLLEGE STUDENT: Thank you for coming, Governor Christie.
My question is, as a former U.S. attorney, do you believe that the Justice Department is being weaponized against Donald Trump, as many politicians said, as Iowa Governor Reynolds say? And then as president, would you reform the Justice Department and/or the FBI and CIA?
CHRISTIE: Well, I kind of started to answer that, right? I jumped to your question. Sorry about that.
But, look, I think -- and I said at the time -- that the Russia business was complete baloney right off the jump. I was involved in that campaign in 2016 with Donald Trump. Let me tell you something, I can guarantee you there was no colluding going on.
They were trying to figure out how to get from New York to Wisconsin, okay? They were not -- colluding with the Russians was the last thing they were thinking about, okay?
And I spoke out right from the beginning that I thought that Jim Comey in particular made the decision that he didn't believe Donald Trump should be president. And that's wrong. I think it was wrong Hillary wasn't prosecuted. I think it was wrong that Jim Comey wasn't brought to justice for the things that happened at the FBI.
So, yes, I'm against the weaponization of the Justice Department. I'm the only person in this race, other than Governor Hutchinson, who was also a U.S. attorney, but I ran the fifth largest attorney's office in the country. I know how important this is. And I was in a blue state where Democrats were looking all the time to this Republican U.S. attorney going, what's he going to do?
We did 130 political corruption prosecutions. And never once, never once on any of those prosecutions did anybody say we were playing politics. And we got guilty verdicts or guilty pleas on every single one of them, 130-0. [20:15:12]
That's the kind of Justice Department I want that, you know, goes and does justice. When I would swear in a new assistant U.S. attorney, the last thing I would make him do before I gave him the oath was, I'd make him read the -- read the seal. And they'd say: "The Latin part?"
I would say: "No, no, no, the English part."
They'd say: "Department of Justice."
I would say: "Does that say Department of Prosecution?"
It doesn't. It says Department of Justice. And the job of the attorney general of the United States in a Christie administration would make sure justice is done for every single American, Republican, independent, Democrat, black, white, brown, conservative, liberal. It doesn't matter. Justice needs to be done, and we need to restore faith in our justice system.
But none of that, with all due respect to Governor DeSantis, none of that excuses you from talking about the conduct that Donald Trump is engaged in, because, in the end, the person you put behind that desk, it's their character, it's what's in their heart that is going to matter in how they make decisions. And I hope you look at that really carefully before you vote.
COOPER: Governor Christie, let me ask you.
Governor DeSantis has said he would fire FBI Director Christopher Wray on the first day if he's elected president. Chris Wray was your attorney, I should point out, in the Bridgegate situation. You actually recommended him to Donald Trump, President Trump, for the FBI. Would you keep him?
CHRISTIE: If he wanted to stay, I would keep him.
And I would hold him to the very same standard that I just talked about, and I would give him a boss, as attorney general, who he would know he had to report to and that he'd have to answer for everything that's going on in the FBI.
I will say this about with the job that Chris has done. Every person that was in leadership under Jim Comey's FBI is gone and has been gone for a long time. And the law enforcement community knows the FBI is doing a good job, because, while everything else in this country, in terms of law enforcement, is being degraded, and they're not being able to recruit people, the FBI has record applications to it now.
And so I think there's a lot to be said for what Chris has done, in terms of the job he's done. And you know what? I'm sure he's made some mistakes too, because all of us do in public life. And so we're not going to hold him to that standard. But the standard I'm going to hold him to is the one I just told you, which is justice is to be done.
And, by the way, no matter how well I know him or that I have recommended him, if I thought for a second that he stepped out of line and did something that was unjust, I'd fire him.
COOPER: Just to be very clear, do you believe President Biden has weaponized the Department of Justice against Donald Trump with these indictments?
CHRISTIE: You know, look, I don't think so.
This evidence looks pretty damning. I think it's a broader question than that, Anderson. It's -- I think Republicans are looking at this and they're saying, OK, Hillary Clinton didn't get prosecuted, and now we're still waiting for what's going to happen with Hunter Biden. And it's been going on for a long time now.
And I'd remind everybody that's a Republican U.S. attorney in Delaware, Donald Trump's appointee, who's handling the Hunter Biden case. So that's an important fact to know that Donald Trump never talks about.
But, in the end, I think this is a bigger, broader problem, because I think there were problems inside the Trump administration too. I don't think that Jeff Sessions should have ever recused himself from the Russia investigation. I wouldn't have appointed Bob Mueller to be special counsel.
If I were attorney general, I would have handled the investigation. And I think all of those steps makes Republicans, in particular -- and I know that Democrats complained a little bit during the Trump years too. But Republicans, in particular, feel like there's two sets of standards.
What we need to do is reassure people by putting someone who has done this in charge. And I have done it. And they're going to know by looking at my record as U.S. attorney in New Jersey that it's going to be done fair and upright. And it doesn't matter who -- which party it is.
You commit a crime when you're in public office, you deserve to go to jail.
COOPER: I want you to meet Sara Owens. She's a hairstylist from Florence, South Carolina. She's a mom of two who went viral for a post about the baby formula shortage last year. She's a Republican, says she plans to support President Trump in 2024.
CHRISTIE: Hey, Sara.
SARA OWENS, RESIDENT OF FLORENCE, SOUTH CAROLINA: My question is, where do you stand on issues such as Americans struggling to make ends meet?
Meanwhile, our current administration is sending billions of dollars to Ukraine.
CHRISTIE: Well, I will deal with both those. First, the reason we're struggling to make ends meet is because government spending under Joe Biden has gone completely out of control. And that out-of-control spending, after the economy is already recovering near the end of President Trump's time, he still followed a crazy liberal agenda to spend trillions more and caused inflation that has been worse than it's been since the Jimmy Carter era.
And so the first thing we have to do, and one of the first things I would do as president, is to say, we are imposing fiscal discipline again in this country. And that's why, if I'm at the top of the ticket, we won't be losing like we lost in 2018 and 2020 and in 2022. We will have a Republican House and a Republican Senate.
And I will say to Kevin McCarthy, and if it's Mitch McConnell or whoever the leader of the Senate would be at that time, job one is to get spending under control, because, the more we spend, the less you can spend. And that's what's horrible for families making ends meet.
And I will tell you the truth. Donald Trump spent more money than Barack Obama did in a four-year period and left us with a bigger deficit, even though he promised that he was going to balance the budget in four years. And he left with one of the biggest deficits any president's ever had.
And, on Ukraine, look, I hope we have a full discussion about Ukraine, but I will just say this. I think the way we need to look at this is, this is a proxy war with China. The Chinese are supplying the Russians with money by buying their oil. The Chinese are providing drones to the Iranians, and the Iranians are using those drones to kill soldiers in Ukraine.
And I think a big and great country, Sara, should be able to do both. We should be able to get our spending under control, and we should be able to have a strong military that will stand up for friends around the world who are free, because I will tell you, my real concern about this is, for your children and my grandchildren, are they going to live in a world where China is setting the tone for this world, a communist dictatorship, where they tell you how many children you can have, where they tell you what you can think, what you can see and what you can hear?
I don't want that kind of world for your kids, and I don't want it for my grandchildren. So, none of us like the idea that there's a war going on and that we're supporting it. But the alternative is for the Chinese to take over, the Russians, the Iranians, and the North Koreans, a bad foursome.
And I don't want that foursome to be running your kids' lives. I want a free world being led by America to do that. So I think we can do both. But it's going to take discipline to say no to some of these crazy programs.
I will give you just one quick example. When I was governor of New Jersey, I inherited an $11 billion deficit on a $29 billion budget right after the financial crisis. We sat down and we cut out 832 different programs, and we balanced the budget without raising taxes.
And that's the kind of discipline we need back in Washington again. Barack Obama sure as heck didn't have it. Donald Trump didn't have it, and Joe Biden in anywhere near it. And we need to start putting money in your pocket, so you can spend it on your children, their education, their upbringing, their food that you put on the table.
I don't want you working so hard and have to worry about prices going through the roof and have to worry about a world that won't be free. I want to try to give you both.
COOPER: I want to follow up on Sara's question; $37 billion is the amount of military aid from the U.S. so far since the beginning of this war.
You have said that you would support Ukraine until they're ready to resolve the conflict. President Zelenskyy said he wants Crimea, all the territory back from Russia. You would support him until then?
CHRISTIE: Oh, I didn't say that. I said until it's resolved.
Anderson, if I were President Zelenskyy, I'd want everything too. But there's going to come a point, I hope, if Ukraine is aggressive enough and we're giving them the arms and support that they need, that both Ukraine and Russia are going to understand that it's time to end the killing and that there may have to be some kind of compromise.
And that's what we should be in the middle of trying to foster, once we get in a position where Ukraine can protect the land that's been taken by Russia in this latest incursion.
COOPER: I want to introduce you to Jeff Bruns from Norwalk, Iowa. He works in I.T. He's an Army veteran. He's a Republican supporting former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley.
JEFF BRUNS, IOWA I.T. WORKER AND U.S. ARMY VETERAN: Hey, Governor.
BRUNS: You started off by saying you have a unique set of skills that would make you a great candidate. So what's one specific skill or experience you have that sets you apart from the other candidates?
CHRISTIE: I governed in a blue state, one of the bluest states in this country, as a two-term Republican governor, and got reelected in that blue state with 61 percent of the vote.
What's that tell you? I made things happen. I know how to make things happen. I think one of the biggest frustrations Americans have now is that Washington gets nothing done, nothing. And you need a strong leader who can go in there and knows how to do this. And with all due respect to these governors from red states who have
Republican legislatures, man, I'm telling you, I would have given my own right arm to have a Republican legislature for a week. They would have never slept, we would have done so much in that week. But what I learned was that, sometimes, getting 60 percent of what you want isn't bad.
Ronald Reagan used to say, the guy who disagrees with you 20 percent of the time is not your 20 percent enemy. He's your 80 percent friend. I governed the state. I got pension reform against the public teachers union. I got a 2 percent cap on property taxes, after property tax had been going up to 7 percent a year for 10 years, through a Democratic legislature.
Imagine getting Democrats to restrain -- I got the Democrats to eliminate the estate tax in New Jersey. They voted for it. That's the kind of skill, I think, that is most unique that I have of all the other candidates.
And if you -- when we go down to Washington, you know it's not going to be a garden party, OK? You're going to want somebody tough who's a fighter, but who fights to get to an end, to accomplish something for you. We can all fight to get headlines. I'm pretty good at that. I get some pretty good headlines.
But here's the thing. In the end, that does nothing for you. What I want to do for you is to go down there and bring the skills that I had for eight years in New Jersey, to look across from people who I don't agree with, and many of them I didn't even like, right? But I know that it was my job to work with them and to get things down the field for you and put touchdowns in the end zone.
I think we have too much pandering in politics now, too much everybody just having showtime, right, to make you feel good. Oh, listen to what he said. That sounds really good. It doesn't get done, but it sounds really good on the news, right?
I'm the guy who's going to be able to go down there and get those things done for you. That's the biggest difference.
COOPER: Governor, I want to introduce you to Anthony Pericolo. He's a Republican, recently graduated from Harvard Law School and is from Westfield, New Jersey.
CHRISTIE: All right.
ANTHONY PERICOLO, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL GRADUATE AND NEW JERSEY VOTER: Good evening, Governor Christie.
CHRISTIE: Good evening.
PERICOLO: As a Republican governor of New Jersey, you had to compromise with a blue legislature to get stuff done. But Republicans aren't looking for someone who could compromise on many of the issues this presidential cycle.
How can you guarantee to Republican voters that you won't be a president who will compromise on Republican values?
CHRISTIE: Well, I mean, you're from Westfield, right?
I don't think cutting $150 billion from the public pension debt is compromising a Republican principle. I don't think capping property taxes at 2 percent a year -- and, if you're in New Jersey, you know what property taxes are like and what they're now like under my successor again -- I don't think that's compromising Republican values.
Understand that when I say you have got to be willing to compromise, it means you're not going to get 100 percent of what you want all the time. But if you get 80 percent of a Republican principle, rather than zero percent of anything, that's a win.
And I think we have got to redefine how this works. I know people don't want you to compromise. And I'm not saying that I will just go -- you have seen me operate. I don't go and lay down, OK? I fight. But the skill in this business is to fight and fight and fight, and then know when the moment is to take your win and go and move on to the next topic.
There are so many problems we have to deal with in this country. Who would you rather have to deal with the problem of rampant crime in our cities all over this country? I have done this. In the city of Camden, New Jersey -- and you know this -- 10 years ago, it was the most dangerous city in America.
You know what I did? And I don't think this is compromising Republican principles. I fired the entire Camden City Police Department. The union sued me. I won. And we created a new police department that emphasized three things, accountability, community policing, and violence de-escalation, took them out of cars, put them on bicycles and on foot, so that they would and get to know the people in the city, and the people would get to know them.
You know what the result is? The stats just came out this week, the 10-year anniversary of the firing of that department. Murder rates in Camden are down 75 percent from 10 years ago. We need to bring commonsense solutions to these problems with someone who's done it. I have been there. I have done it. I have done it in the toughest state.
Maybe New York and California and Illinois may be a little bit tougher than New Jersey on being a Republican. But we are at least a suitable fourth, and we may be higher. I have done it in the toughest place it can be done. So I'm ready to go to Washington now and make it work for Republican values in the right way.
COOPER: You have talked about Republican values.
For you, what are your core Republican values? What does that mean to you?
CHRISTIE: Fiscal restraint, first and foremost. I don't want to spend a nickel more than I have to make this country strong economically and strong militarily, and have a strong social safety net for those people who are in need.
Secondly, I believe America is a leader around the world and that the world is great when America leads, and America can only be great when we lead. We can't be great by being small, small arguments, petty arguments, dividing each other.
Look, America is great when we don't fill the moat and pull up the drawbridge.
Every time we have had that choice in our nation's history, we have had a president who's gone big, whether it was our founders to go big to go independent, or Abraham Lincoln to fight to keep the Union together, or FDR to say, no, we're not going to let Hitler run the world, or John Kennedy when he wanted to go to the moon. Every time that has led to a bigger and greater America. So a core thing is to lead the world.
Third thing is, I want great education for every child in this country. It is the great equalizer, Anderson. And what we need is to have competition with the public schools. And we need to have parents be right in the middle of it because nobody cares about their child's education, you're a parent, I'm a parent, no -- nobody cares more about our child's education than us.
And I'm fortunate to have four great kids who have all been afforded a great education. It shouldn't be just folks like me whose children get a great education. That's why I opened more charter schools in New Jersey than any governor in New Jersey history, and why the test scores in Newark and Camden have tripled after having done that.
And those kids have been denied a great education in our urban centers. We've got to get back at that. And that's what Republicans are for, Anderson, for great education that allows you to lift yourself up. You don't need a government handout. If you have a great education, you're in IT, you've got a great education, you can go and you can make your own business and make it work and be successful and set an example for your children.
COOPER: Let me ask you, you've been on a debate stage with the former president. You've helped prep him for -- for debates.
CHRISTIE: Both times.
COOPER: What would be different this time?
CHRISTIE: Because I'm not prepping him. So, one, he's going to be a lot worse. Second -- second -- look, last time, Anderson, and I admitted this in New Hampshire a few months ago, we all made a mistake. Every one of us on that stage made this mistake. We got convinced that we should all fight amongst ourselves, myself, Marco Rubio, JEB Bush, John Kasich, kind of the establishment lane of the party. And that somehow it was going to be like the NCAA tournament, you know? We were going to advance to the next round and we were going to face the winner of Trump and Cruz and Carson and Fiorina.
Well, guess what? By the time we all got done fighting with each other, Trump won the nomination. We cannot let that happen this time. And I will not let it happen this time. I'm going to take him on directly, and not because I don't like him. I'm going to take him on directly because he's the leader. Like, how do you -- that's what I don't understand the other candidates who won't even mention his name.
I watched that Joni Ernst "roast and ride" thing. It was like he was Voldemort from "Harry Potter." Like, nobody wanted to mention his name. You know -- you know, someone who's leaning backwards and looking backwards. Like, say his name, man, say his name. Right? I mean, how do you beat someone if you won't talk about them? How do you beat them if you won't distinguish yourself from them?
I think, like I said before, they're playing politics. The second one is, some of them are afraid. They're afraid of him. Look what he does. Right? I've got a nickname now. I never got one all through '16. I got one now, which is really nice. Makes me feel even more important.
I'm -- I'm just telling you, I've known him for 22 years. The only thing he understands is force. The only thing he understands is coming right at him and making your case. And if these other candidates don't want to do it, the American people and Republican primary voters have to start to understand this.
When did it -- when did we get to the point we're always blaming our adversaries for the weakness of our candidates? Oh, it's the Democrats' fault, it's DoJ's fault, it's this person's fault, it's the media's fault. How about, it's his? He hasn't won a damn thing since 2016. Three-time loser.
2018, we lost the House. 2020, we lost the White House. We lost the United States Senate a couple of weeks later in 2021. And in 2022, we lost two more governorships, another Senate seat, and barely took the House of Representatives when Joe Biden had the most first incompetent two years I've ever seen in my life.
Loser, loser, loser. Now we're getting going. It'll be different this time. Why? Why will it be different this time? Those arguments need to be made. And I'm not afraid to make them for two reasons. One, I'm not afraid of him. And two, it's the truth.
COOPER: Do you think he'll show up to those early debates?
CHRISTIE: You bet. You bet he will. His ego will not be able to stop him. Or, if he skips the first one, that'll be fine. Let him skip the first one. That will give me absolute free -- free lane. We'll do that once, Anderson, he'll be at the second one.
COOPER: We're going to take a quick break. We'll be back with more with the former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
COOPER: And we are back with former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and our CNN "AC360 Republican Presidential Town Hall" audience.
You said that former President Trump undercut democracy, forfeited the trust to hold the office of the presidency. You said of President Biden, he didn't keep his promise to unify the nation and that he's, quote, "too damn old." Who do you think represents the bigger hazard for this country?
CHRISTIE: Look, it's a coin flip. I mean, seriously. Look, I -- I had -- I forget which one of my children, when I said this the first time in front of them, called me an ageist. I had to look it up, but I'm not, OK? But I'm just a realist. If those two people were the nominees, they are going to be a combined 160 years old on Election Day. I'm sorry, guys, nobody beats Father Time. Nobody does.
I'm different than I was when I first got into office 13 years ago. OK? I'm different. I feel it. And I can't imagine 20 years from now, 22 years from now? I'm 60 years old. At 82 being president of the United States or at 78 being president?
So, look, Anderson, I -- I think for both of them, for different reasons. I disagree with President Biden vehemently, philosophically. I don't like what he has done to the country and I fear what he'll do going forward if he gets re-elected.
And for Donald Trump, as I said off the top, he -- he will -- he will care less about the country this time than he did four years ago. This is personal now. And -- and the proof of that is, everybody, look, look how angry he is. Every time he talks, he's angry.
Like, this isn't an angry game. Sometimes you've got to be mad. Sometimes people make me mad and you've seen video of me. I don't hold back, OK? But, if -- if there's that much anger, when he displays it, it's never about what's being done to the country. It's never about what you talked about, about how much things are costing you and how you can make ends meet. It's not about that inner city kids aren't getting a great education. It's now about that there's crime over the streets. It's about what has been done to him, poor me, victim me.
Well, I don't think either one of those people are perfect to be president. As I said off the top, that's why I'm running. There is not -- if those two are the candidates, I don't believe that there's a winning alternative for America. And America needs to start winning again. And the only way we do is if each one of you has a chance to win every day. So, coin flip.
COOPER: I want to introduce you to Jason Ortiz. He's a college student, a paramedic from Freeport, New York. He's a Republican who says he's deciding between supporting Senator Tim Scott, Governor Ron DeSantis, and Vivek Ramaswamy. Jason?
JASON ORTIZ, NEW YORK COLLEGE STUDENT, PARAMEDIC: Governor Christie, do you admit any involvement, direct or indirect, with Bridgegate? If so, explain. And how can the American people ensure that no such thing will occur on your watch if you're elected president?
COOPER: I just want to fill in for those who don't remember unsure.
CHRISTIE: Sure, why don't you just?
CHRISTIE: (inaudible) Anderson. It'd be great.
COOPER: Was this (inaudible)...
CHRISTIE: Maybe I'll sit during this, you know?
COOPER: A couple of lanes of traffic were closed. There was a Democratic mayor who was being punished for not supporting you.
COOPER: Supposedly. There were two Port Authority officials who were charged. One pled guilty. Your deputy chief of staff also was charged. They were both -- there were multiple criminal convictions, some of which were later overturned by the Supreme Court.
CHRISTIE: All of them.
COOPER: You were never charged.
CHRISTIE: Pretty accurate, Anderson. Not bad.
CHRISTIE: Look, first off, the way the American people could know that I had no involvement is you can only imagine how I was investigated by the Obama Justice Department. Remember when this happened. I had just been re-elected with 61 percent of the vote, and I was leading Hillary Clinton in national polls. I was investigated pretty thoroughly. I had absolutely nothing to do with it, no knowledge of it. I was appalled by it. And I had nothing to do with it.
Now, the second question is, with all due respect, the more important one, which is, what did I learn? What I learned was every person you pick for a job in your government is important, no matter how distant they may be from you or close they are to you. And you've got to know you can trust those people to do the right thing because you can't watch them every minute of the day.
In New Jersey I had 60,000 employees. In the federal government, you have a couple million. And so you can't every day watch everything they do. But you need to set an example that tells them this is unacceptable on my watch and it won't happen.
And I'll be much better at that. Believe me. With the way all that happened, it's not a lesson that you forget. And so, I'm glad you asked the question because people do need to know. But what they need to know is this. I came out the day after all this happened, and I stood up for an hour and 50 minutes on national television and took every question from every national and local reporter until they had no more questions left.
If you're guilty of anything, you don't do that. I did it, and I regret what happened, and I feel I am accountable for it because it happened on my watch. But it'll never happen with me again, I can guarantee you that.
COOPER: I want you to meet Joe Robbins. He's here with his wife, Tracey. Joe is a Republican from Henderson, Nevada. He is retired from Union Pacific Railroad. In 2017, they lost their 20-year-old son Quinton in the Las Vegas mass shooting, along with 57 other people who were killed.
Joe, I'm very sorry for your loss and Tracy's loss.
JOE ROBBINS, NEVADA RETIREE, LOST SON IN MASS SHOOTING: Thank you. Appreciate it.
COOPER: Thanks for being with us. What's your question?
ROBBINS: Thanks for taking this question.
CHRISTIE: A pleasure.
ROBBINS: What specific steps do you propose to effectively address the horrific issue of mass shootings in our -- in our society and ensure the safety and well-being of our communities while respecting individual liberties?
CHRISTIE: Well, look, it is, I think, the most difficult public policy question we face today in the country because there is no easy answer. Look at your question. How are you going to do all this while also respecting the individual rights under the Second Amendment? And -- and they're -- they're at tension.
So I think what we need to do as a country is to understand that at the intersection of this are two things that are really important. Law enforcement and mental health are both very important.
I don't think with 350 million or so guns out there, that tighter gun control is going to keep the gun out of the hands of someone who's going to do what happened in Las Vegas or what happened in Uvalde or what happened in Sandy Hook.
You know, in some of those, people had guns that they illegally owned in their own home and the people took them, right? I really think that we need to, one, have law enforcement become much more sensitive to what they're seeing from a mental health perspective with people in the community. Because, in the end, those people almost always send off signs and signals.
Now, I wish I had a better answer than that. I really do. And I've really searched my soul and searched the law as a lawyer to say what could be done that would make it better. But criminals don't follow the law. That's why they're criminals. And so it's a very, very difficult issue to try to deal with.
But I feel I have to be honest with you, look -- stand in front of you, I feel wholly inadequate giving that answer because three of my children are sitting there and I have a fourth one out in Chicago in what is a very dangerous place, with my oldest daughter, right now. And I don't know how I'd put one foot in front of the other if I lost one of them. And so all I can say to you is that I will do my very best to try to come up with some compromise that can bring all sides together on this, that can make it better.
And I think the only way you do that is by listening to everybody who's involved and concerned about it and try to find those common threads, and then, as a leader, pull those common threads together to come to a solution.
I was talking to my wife about this tonight because I knew I'd get a question like this. And I said to her, "I'm mad because I don't have a great answer. I wish I did." All I can say to you is that, as a father, I can't imagine what you've gone through and continue to go through every day. And I hope that you'll try to lend your voice, as I'm sure you already have, to being one of the people who helps to bring a solution to it. It's not an easy question or a problem for our country. And I appreciate you being here tonight to ask me. And I'm glad it came from someone like you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
CHRISTIE: Thank you, sir.
COOPER: You've -- you've talked a lot about mental health issues for -- for a long time. There's obviously a lot of countries that have people with mental health challenges. There's not a lot of countries that have the kind of gun violence that we have here. Is there anything new related to guns, as president, that you would want to see done?
CHRISTIE: You know, Anderson, I don't think, on a federal level, there's a lot more left to do. I do think that the states handle these things in different ways. And my state certainly handles it much different than, let's say, Oklahoma handles it. I think each state's governor has to be challenged to do that.
If I thought there was a federal solution, I would -- I would consider it, and there may be something that comes when I'm president that I'd be willing to consider. But I also know that, if we start to degrade our respect for the Constitution, that, you know, just because it's the second amendment, you know, it's adjacent to the first. And I don't want to see that degraded and I don't want to see the fourth or the fifth degraded, either, or the sixth, in any material way. And that's why I'm inexorably opposed to what Governor Newsom is talking about, and the 28th amendment. We've got the second amendment. Let's work with each other to try to make it better. I think his idea is a bad one.
COOPER: Let me just ask you, because you -- you have changed your -- you've evolved on this. You've changed your position back -- you said you actually -- I think it was getting into the race for state senate. You said you got into it because the Republicans were trying to pass -- to get rid of the assault weapons ban. You now say you don't believe that there should be an assault weapons ban?
CHRISTIE: Yeah, I was -- I was 29 years old then. I've learned a lot since then. At 29 years old, I thought there were easy answers to everything, Anderson. I really did. And I thought that would be an easy answer, an easy fix. And it turns out it's not. And so I'm -- yeah, I'm a lot better than I was at 29.
COOPER: You said back then, "In today's society, no one needs a semi- automatic assault weapon." Do you think people need them now?
CHRISTIE: It's not about "need" or not. See, that's -- I love that you used that quote. I didn't know which one you were going to use, but I'm glad you used that one. That's the naivete of a 29-year-old. It's not about "need." It's a right. They have a right under the second amendment, and they're exercising their right. I don't own one, but that's been my choice. And so I'm -- I am smarter and better than I was 31 years ago, for the most part.
And -- and I think that's what you see in that difference there, because it changed pretty quickly. My position started to change on that when I got better educated on issues than I was at 29.
Maybe I shouldn't have run for that job then. Maybe I wasn't quite ready.
COOPER: I want to...
CHRISTIE: I lost anyway, so it was OK.
COOPER: I want you to meet James Klas. He's a college student from Midland Park, New Jersey. He's currently the vice president of his college Republican club. He said he's currently supporting Vivek Ramaswamy.
CHRISTIE: What college, by the way?
QUESTION: Ramapo College. CHRISTIE: Ramapo, sure.
QUESTION: You've made it clear you do not believe that the 2020 election was rigged against former President Trump. What is your message to the people in the Republican Party that still believe the election was stolen?
CHRISTIE: Look, my -- my message to them is just show me the evidence. It's the same thing that I said to -- to Donald Trump in the aftermath of the 2020 election, was "Show me the evidence." If I see the evidence, I'm happy to support fighting all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and beyond. But there's no evidence.
And so, I'm sorry, all these conspiracy theories -- like, you know, he still talks about, "Oh, they were bringing boxes of ballots into, you know, Fulton County, Georgia." No matter how many times we explain to him, "Well, that's the way they do it. The ballots get collected at the local places in Fulton County, and then the boxes get brought to the central place to be counted. So, of course, all night boxes of ballots are being brought in."
But people see little clips on the Internet of video, or whatever, and he's saying it. See, to me, this is the most destructive thing he's done. People want to believe the president of the United States, right?
And even when it's a president that I don't agree with -- it's Jason, right?
CHRISTIE: James -- sorry, James. James, even when it's a president we don't agree with, if it's something really important, we want to believe them. Because we also want to believe that they know stuff that we don't know. And so, if they're telling us something -- and that's when it was over for me with Donald, when he stood behind the seal of the president in the East Room of the White House at 2:30 in the morning on election morning and said the election was stolen.
Now, let me tell you something, everybody, if it had been -- which it wasn't -- he had no damn idea at that point. All the votes hadn't even been counted yet.
COOPER: Governor Christie, let me actually just play that moment. Because you've talked about this moment as being the critical moment for you.
COOPER: And I just want to play it to remind our viewers.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FORMER PRESIDENT DONALD J. TRUMP: This is a fraud on the American public.
TRUMP: This is an embarrassment to our country.
TRUMP: We were getting ready to win this election. Frankly, we did win this election.
TRUMP: It's -- it's a very sad -- it's a very sad moment. To me, this is a very sad moment. And we will win this. And as far as I'm concerned, we already have won it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: So that was the East Room of the White House. What about that moment changed it for you?
CHRISTIE: All right, look. How many -- how many people out here are parents? Can you raise your hands?
All right. Look, that's like when your kid comes home from school with a bad grade, and you're like, "Well, how did this happen?"
"The teacher's unfair."
"The -- the test was rigged. It was none of the stuff that she told us to study. And -- and -- and the guy next to me was talking the entire time and distracting me, and that's why I did bad on the test."
That is a child. It's a child. That's a child's reaction, everybody. Every parent out there recognizes it, knows it. "We were about to win."
What? You were winning for a time, in certain states. Why? Because some states counted the machine votes first, and those generally tended to be for Republicans.
Other states, like Ohio, he was losing in the beginning. He's not complaining about the Ohio result though, is he? He was losing for hours in Ohio because they counted the mail-in ballots first. Then they counted the machine ballots. And they won Ohio by, like, eight points.
It's a child's reaction. And I just -- I beg you to think about this. Don't allow the showmanship to obscure the facts. The facts are he lost to Joe Biden. And he lost to Joe Biden, in my opinion, because he lost independent voters. And he lost independent voters because they took a chance on him in 2016 because they didn't like Hillary Clinton. I'm all for that. But guess what? They wanted to see performance.
I'll tell you one quick story, Anderson. Mary Pat and I sat with him on Valentine's Day 2017 and had lunch with him in the dining room off the Oval Office. And he said to me, "What's your political advice for me?"
And I said, "Mr. President, you didn't win the election. She lost it. She blew it. But it doesn't matter, because look where we're sitting. You're the president. So, now, make the next four years about the country. And if you make the next four years about the country, you're going to get re-elected in a landslide. Make it about them, not about you. And if you do that, you're going to win."
And he looked at me -- and you'll remember this. He shook his said and he goes, "Ah, Chris, you worry too much."
I think I was worried just enough.
COOPER: I want you to meet Kristen Gourrier. She's a student at Harvard Law School working in New York City. She's a Republican who says she's currently supporting Governor DeSantis.
QUESTION: Hi, Governor Christie.
CHRISTIE: Hey, there.
QUESTION: My question is, President Trump significantly increased tariffs on Chinese goods. President Biden has mostly kept these tariffs in place. Would you reduce, maintain or increase tariffs on China if you were elected president?
CHRISTIE: I would make it part of an overall negotiation to reset our relationship with China. We need to make the Chinese understand that, like, the party's over. For the last 50 years, we have been investing in China to try to bring them into the community of nations and to try to make them better, because we thought it would make us better, too. And in some ways, it has. We have great trade with China over a long period of time. And by great, I mean a large volume of it.
But the Chinese have taken advantage of our good nature, stealing our intellectual property, spying on us, causing trouble around the world, unfair trade deals. And it's time for that to stop now. They're no longer a fledgling economy. They're the second largest economy in the world and inching up on us.
And so what I would do on tariffs would be to say, "Look, they don't like those tariffs -- and those tariffs also increase prices for some of us, right? But we're not going to get rid of that stuff until they decide to be fair on those other things." You come up with a great idea, intellectual property, you should be able to own that. And if they want to use it, they pay you for it, not steal it from you.
TikTok is here in this country. We let them in. Facebook and Twitter are not in China. They want Facebook -- they're going to let Facebook, Twitter and our social media into China, I'll let TikTok stay. If they don't, TikTok goes, in a Christie administration.
They need to understand that we will be fair, but we won't be chumps. And so I don't want to give that away on the CNN town hall in June of 2023. I want to use it as a card that we can negotiate with going forward, smartly, so that we -- we right this relationship. Because, if we don't right this relationship, it will be the relationship that defines the world for the next 50 years. And I'd rather that -- have that be a prosperous, fair, competitive relationship, rather than a relationship that involves warfare.
COOPER: We're going to have more with Republican presidential candidate, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, when we come back.
COOPER: And back now with former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. As tonight's CNN AC 360 Republican presidential town hall continues. One of the things you wrote about in your book was a moment that I thought was interesting. You got COVID after doing debate prep with the former President in 2020. You were in intensive care. A priest had actually put oil on you, said prayers over you. You thought you might die.
President Trump, who was also hospitalized at the same time, called you while you were in the hospital room. Do you remember what he said to you?
COOPER: He said, are you going to say you got it from me, right?
CHRISTIE: Yeah. To be fair, he first asked me how I was feeling. And then he said to me, so, Chris, are you going to tell them you got it from me? I told Mr. President, I don't know who I got it from. There were six of us in that room for debate prep, and five of us got it. So I said, well, I don't know who Patient Zero was, but --
COOPER: What did it say to you that was --
CHRISTIE: Well, finished the story, and then I understood. And he said, oh, no, no, I know you couldn't know, but you're not going to say it was me, are you? I said, well, why would I say that, sir? I said, I don't know who it is. And he said, OK, well, good luck with everything, and I'll talk to you later. They got a phone. That was the last time I heard from him during the seven days of intensive care. The end of the story is that he got out of the hospital before I did.
He went back on the campaign trail. Two reporters who were on Air Force One with him on his first trip called me and said, look, we're not supposed to tell you this because it's off the record, but we're going to tell you because we're so appalled by it. He came back to the press cabin today and an off the record and said to us that you gave him COVID.
Now, since you're the person who showed symptoms last among the five, we think that's kind of illogical, that it would be you, but you need to know he's blaming you. So he called me to make sure I wouldn't blame him, and when I said I wouldn't because I had no basis to know who it was. He then blames me. And then, the even more interesting is Mark Meadows came out with his book a couple of years later and said that on the first morning of debate prep that we did before that Tuesday debate was a Saturday morning, that President Trump had tested positive that morning for COVID and never told any of us.
COOPER: I want you to meet Michel Hurtado. He's a college student from Trenton, New Jersey, who serves as the Chair of the New Jersey College Republicans. He's currently running for the New Jersey General Assembly, says he supports you and Governor DeSantis. Michael, welcome.
MICHEL HURTADO, NEW JERSEY COLLEGE STUDENT, RUNNING FOR NJ GENERAL ASSEMBLY: Governor, good evening.
CHRISTIE: Which district, by the way?
HURTADO: If elected, you would be only the third Catholic and the first Italian American president. How, if in any way, has this and would this influence your approach to being a chief executive and a politician in general?
CHRISTIE: Well, look, I think in being a Catholic, I. think the biggest thing that Catholicism teaches us is redemption, is that everyone can be redeemed, that there's no person who's beyond redemption if they truly want forgiveness and they want to try to change their life. And that's kind of what's guided my view on the drug addiction crisis we have in this country.
You know, I'm pro-life, but I think if you're pro-life, you got to be pro-life for the whole life, not just the nine months in the womb. No disrespect to the women in the audience, but that's the easy part. It's what comes later that the kids start to disappoint you and make it really hard. And sometimes that's drug addiction. I believe every life is an individual gift from God, and it's precious.
And if you believe that in your heart, then that applies just as much to the 16-year-old young woman drug addicted on the floor of the county lockup or the 52-year-old lawyer who got addicted to opioids and has now driven his life off the road.
We need to be looking in our country, I believe, for the idea that everybody can be redeemed and everybody can be changed and everybody can have another chance if in their heart they really believe that. And I think that, I feel it so strongly because that's what my Catholicism has taught me.
As far as being the first Italian American president, let me guarantee this. The food in the White House will be better. Guaranteed. The food will be better, for sure.
CHRISTIE: And secondly, I have to say this because I know my mother is watching from heaven and she was a Sicilian American. She would make sure that I corrected the Italian American thing. Sicilians are very sensitive about that. And I'll tell you the greatest two lessons my mother taught me. First, she said, you can be anything you want to be if you're willing to work hard enough. She drilled that into my head every day, and I wouldn't be standing on the stage if I didn't believe that.
And second, she said to me, Christopher, be yourself, because then tomorrow you don't have to try to remember who you pretended to be yesterday. And so if I can make any promises to the American people as your president, based upon my upbringing, it'll be that I will work as hard as I can every day, because that's what I was taught. And you will always know exactly what I'm thinking. And some days you will love it, and other days you will turn off the radio or TV and say, I've had enough of him this week. But you will always know what I believe in my heart.
And I think both of those things come from my Catholic upbringing and my Sicilian American mother, who made sure that those are lessons she didn't just say to me, but that she enforced in me and the rest of my siblings.
COOPER: I want to ask you what you believe on an issue you raised, which is abortion. And before you launched in 2016, you supported a 20-week federal abortion ban, except in the case of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother. Last week you said you don't want the federal government, "bigfooting around on the issue." To be clear, do you now oppose a federal ban on abortion?
CHRISTIE: No. What I stand for, Anderson, is what conservatives have been arguing for 50 years, which is that Roe was wrong. There's no federal constitutional right to an abortion, and that the state should decide. And I absolutely believe that each state should make their decision on this and that the federal government -- the full answer I gave last week is the federal government should not be involved unless and until there's a consensus around the country from the 50 states making their own decisions about what it should be. And if at that time there's a consensus that has emerged, well, then that's fine.
COOPER: So if you were president and there was a consensus and you got a bill for a federal ban, would you sign it? CHRISTIE: That's a lot of ifs in there. I don't --
COOPER: It's not too many ifs?
CHRISTIE: Yeah, it's one more than I'd like. I'll just be honest with you. I don't think we should be worried about that now. We should be out for those of us who care about the life issue, we should be out in the states making our case for it.
Now, in my state, we've done a miserable job making the case for it, because in my state, you can have an abortion now up to nine months. I just can't be for that. But that's what the people in my state have decided.
The people of Oklahoma decided there should be no abortions at all unless the life of the mother is implicated. We're not at a consensus point, Anderson. So I think what we need to do is to have this conversation. That's going to happen in every state in this country now. And the reason I like this is because state politicians used to get away with murder. I said, well, you can imagine what I would do if there was -- but Roe is there, so I can't do anything. Well, Roe gone, so now it's time to step up to the plate and I want to see what each state does.
Everyone thought they knew what Kansas was going to do, a red state. They thought Kansas would be anti-abortion, but they turned out to be pro. I want to see that consensus. Then, as president, I want to build off that consensus.
COOPER: But, you know, you said just before you want to show people what's in your heart, just in your heart, what do you believe the time period should be for a ban on abortion?
CHRISTIE: Anything in my heart about time period. What I have in my heart is that every life is precious and should be protected. And so --
COOPER: Governor DeSantis has signed a bill for six weeks banning abortion. After six weeks, former President Trump has said he thinks that's harsh. Do you?
CHRISTIE: Look, I think that's Governor DeSantis' decision to make, along with the legislature of Florida, and I think the people will judge him on whether that's too harsh or not.
COOPER: You don't want to say whether you think that's too harsh?
CHRISTIE: No, because in the end, what I want is to encourage a debate, a discussion, and decisions in every state. We'll get to feel what America really feels by doing that.
And by the way, the question kind of presumes that all wisdom presides in the federal government. And I don't believe that. I believe that the framers kept a lot of stuff out of the Constitution because they want the federal government messed in everything. And as a governor, I really feel that, seems like every time the federal government got involved, unless it was disaster relief, they screwed things up in my state. So I don't want them there, right?
So I do believe that a lot of wisdom resides in each individual state. We have 50 different ones. We have a federalist system. I think we should go with that. And by the way, it's consistent with what everyone on the conservative side, our side, has been arguing for 50 years. Leave it to the states. Let's leave it to the states. And if a consensus emerges, we'll know it. And if the federal government feels they need to step in, then I'd certainly consider that. But not until a consensus is built across the country through, Anderson, the state- by-state process of each state deciding what the law should be in their state.
COOPER: You talked about opioid addiction, the opioid crisis. I want you to meet Elizabeth Haggett from Seabrook, New Hampshire. She's a Republican. She's supporting Governor DeSantis. She says her son has been struggling with drugs since he was 16, most recently fentanyl. She struggled to find social services for him. He's now 21 and in jail. Welcome.
ELIZABETH HAGGETT, NEW HAMPSHIRE VOTER, SON STRUGGLES WITH DRUGS: Thank you. So, as stated, my son is incarcerated drug addict. What do you intend to do about the war on drugs, which has obviously failed so miserably?
CHRISTIE: End it.
HAGGETT: How do you intend to do that?
CHRISTIE: I want to focus on treatment. Look, your son -- and I don't want to pretend to know him, but I know a lot of people have gone through this. And I've had some dear friends who have lost their life to this.
He has a disease the same way heart disease, diabetes, cancer. It is a disease, and he can be treated. It's not easy, but neither is treatment for cancer or heart disease in many cases. We need to make treatment broadly available to everyone who is addicted, because with Medicaid Assisted Treatment, with talk therapy, with those things combined, we can save not every life, but many of those lives.
And, look, I still want to make sure we try to interdict as much fentanyl coming across our border as we can. I would use the National Guard to try to do that, to enhance that. That part of the war on drugs, to lower supply should continue.
But the idea that incarcerating someone is going to make them not become an addict is ridiculous. And it's been proven to be wrong, because you know what happens? They get drugs in jail. And so let's be real about this. And let's stop stigmatizing this.
You know, I don't like anybody to raise their hand in here who hasn't made a bad judgment in your life. Your son's bad judgment was to start drugs in the first place. But does that mean that we have to penalize him for the rest of his life because he made that bad judgment. But we want to try to give him a hand up to say, here is way we can help you. And you can help yourself?
We had 110,000 Americans die last year of opioid overdose. It is the leading cause of death in 18- to 34-year-old men. It's unacceptable. And, you know, my mother was an addict. She was addicted to nicotine. She started smoking when she was 16, and she died at 71 of lung cancer. And when she got diagnosed, no one came to me and said, well, she's known since 1964 it could cause cancer. She got what she deserved. And I never tried to hide my mother's illness from anybody. I wasn't ashamed.
But what if my mother was a heroin addict rather than a nicotine addict? Think I would have told everybody? Think people would have rushed to her aid? We have to change that dynamic. And a president can change that dynamic by talking about it, by saying it's a disease and that your son needs the treatment that can help him to have the redemption I talked about, and the answer to your question. We don't need to dispose of his life. Lives are not disposable, especially when we have tools at our disposal to do it.
Yes, I want to be tough on crime, and the -- the dealers who are making money off this, you bet they should be penalized. But your son sitting in jail tonight, if his crime is that he was addicted and had enough to just feed his own addiction, in my view, he should be in treatment right now, learning how to cope with his addiction and to come home to you. That's what I'd want as president, and that's what I'll fight for.
COOPER: I want to introduce you to Norm Olsen. He's a Republican business consultant from Portsmouth, New Hampshire. He's active in local politics. He said he voted for the Libertarian, Jo Jorgensen, in 2020. He's undecided now.
QUESTION: Thank you. Governor Christie, thank you for being with us this evening.
CHRISTIE: Thank you.
QUESTION: My question is, as president, what is the first thing that you would do to address the terrible, terrible crisis we have on our southern border?
CHRISTIE: Send the National Guard to the southern border. No matter how hard our Customs and Border Patrol agents and our Immigration and Customs enforcements agents are working, they need back-up. They're dealing with people who are armed, dangerous, many of them bringing drugs into the country. Some of them aren't. But we need to secure that border.
And this is where President Trump has failed us so badly. I mean, I stood on that stage eight years ago and heard him say, "I'm going to build a big, beautiful wall across the entire border, and Mexico is going to pay for it."
Well, four years later, we've got a quarter of a wall and not one peso towards that. Your money paid for that quarter of a wall, OK? He had Congress in Republican hands for two years, not one piece of legislation to change our immigration laws.
It is an abject failure. And now he blames Joe Biden for it. Well, what the heck did you do to make it better?
He -- he took temporary steps that, the minute he left office, someone else could change. You know what that is? A bad executive. Make permanent changes in the law, get Congress to pass it, so it's going to be hard for the next guy to change it.
And we will put National Guard there to try to secure it, and then the Republican Congress that will get elected with me, we will work together to change the immigration laws in our first two years. Because we need to change this entire system. And we will secure the southern border, like Donald Trump didn't.
And now he'll come -- believe me, when you get to -- I listened to him this weekend. He was talking like, as if the wall was built. "I took care of the wall." Like, did you really? There's a quarter of it built. And I see all these people streaming over the border. Are they -- are they in the one spot where the wall isn't?
COOPER: Are you opposed to the idea of a wall?
CHRISTIE: Look, at this point, I think we've started to build it; let's finish it. I mean, I probably wouldn't have done that at the start, and I said that at the time. But now we've spent this money on building some of it; you might as well finish it now. And -- and we've put away with the fiction that Mexico is going to pay for it. Right? So that would be one of the priorities we'd talked about, Anderson, in -- but it's only going to be part of it. You have to change the immigration laws in this country to make them fairer, clearer and have some teeth to them.
COOPER: Applying for asylum here takes years before you even see a judge for a hearing.
CHRISTIE: That's just one of the problems. How about all the people who would bring great skills to this country, who are waiting in line outside the country while people are sneaking over the border and getting in? Like, it's unfair to those people who are playing by the rules. There's lots of problems with it. You pointed out one of them. That's another one.
And we need to go -- and you need a president who's going to sit down with both parties and say, "Enough. Enough posturing. Let's come to a solution."
And only -- and, like, I answered that question earlier about my unique skill. Only if you have had to sit with your adversaries, listen to them, reason with them, and then come to an agreement, do you know how to do it. And I don't see anybody in this race other than me who has ever had the experience of doing that at an executive governmental level.
COOPER: We're going to have more with Republican presidential candidate, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, when we come back.
COOPER: And welcome back. We are here with New Jersey Governor -- former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, as CNN's "AC360 Republican Presidential Primary Town Hall" continues.
I want to ask about Medicare and Social Security. If no action is taken, you've talked about this before, Medicare Part A won't be able to pay full benefits in 2031, Social Security in 2034. You've said, quote, "we need had to examine a whole bunch of options."
What options specifically are you wanting to examine?
CHRISTIE: Well, look, the two programs are obviously very different. On Social Security, look, I think we do need to look at means-testing of Social Security. Now I'm not talking about if you've got a few hundred thousand dollars put away or less. I'm talking about if you're -- if you're Warren Buffett, do you really need the Social Security check? Like, is Mark Zuckerberg not going to make ends meet without the Social Security check?
And I know, I said this one time in Iowa eight years ago. And a woman stopped and said, I paid into that, and I want my money back no matter how much money I make. I get it. But do you want your money back at the cost of the person who won't be able to eat, at the cost of the person who won't be able to pay shelter?
We've got to make tough choices in this country. And, you know, I came out with a plan eight years ago, and I remember being on the stage at the Reagan Library debate. And Donald Trump came up to me during the debate in the commercials -- which by the way, if TV really wanted to make money, they could, like, sell pay-per-view for what goes on during the commercials, who talks to who, who won't talk to who.
Back then, no one would talk to Trump other than me. They all -- they all hated him other than me. So he and I would wind up talking a lot. And he came up to me and he said, you know, I -- I heard about that plan you've got on Social Security.
He said, really smart. And I said, thanks, Donald. Then he goes, I'll never talk about it because you can't talk about that stuff, but it's really smart.
We have to start talking about it, because if we don't, in 2034, there's going to be an automatic 24% cut in everybody's benefits. And for a lot of people that will mean they can't pay their rent or they can't buy food and we can't have that.
So means testing is one of the things. We have to look at a whole variety of stuff from every different person having their ox scored because we've overspent. And when you overspend that means you got to give something back up like we were talking about before.
And so we got to look at that because otherwise it's going to run out of money and we can't like click our heels and hope that, you know, it's going to, you know, no place like home.
COOPER: Mike Pence, Nikki Haley said they'll only change Social Security for young people in their 20s and 30s today. What's your --
CHRISTIE: Well, that might be the case you got. You know, when you talk about changing the retirement age, you don't change the retirement age for somebody my age, right? I'm 60, so I'm within eyeshot of that. And so you don't change it for them. But you can do a lot of good by changing it for people at a younger age. And what I'd want to do is sit down with the actuaries and say at each different age point that we would change the retirement age. How much would it save us?
And look at that and have a real conversation about it. I mean, you know, look, if you've got 20 or 30 years to plan for it that should be enough to get yourself ready. If you only have four or five years, that's not fair to do. So I'll be clear on that.
COOPER: I want you to meet Alisha Youch. She's a social worker from Dover, New Hampshire. She's a Republican. Says she plans to support Governor DeSantis in the primary. Welcome.
ALISHA YOUCH, NEW HAMPSHIRE SOCIAL WORKER: Thank you for being here, Governor.
CHRISTIE: My pleasure.
ALISHA YOUCH: I'm a proud parent of a recent 2023 college graduate. Two years ago, my son's professors talked about how fortunate his class would be to be graduating into such a strong economy and job market. Fast forward to today and my son's job search is still ongoing. He does have some prospects, so.
And my husband and I wonder, once he does get a job, how can he possibly afford to live on his own with the economy and inflation as it is? What are your thoughts on the factors that have contributed to today's poor economy and what is your plan to address it?
CHRISTIE: Well, I have a 2023 graduate, too, who's here tonight, so I can relate to this very directly and personally.
First, as I said before, the out-of-control old government spending has created this inflation. I mean, even Larry Summers, who I don't agree with much on, former Democratic Treasury Secretary warned Joe Biden, don't do this spending. It's going to cause the inflation. So first, we need to bring spending down, and we've talked about that before. Second, the reinstitution of all these regulations, it's just a job
killer. Every dollar they spend complying with regulation is a dollar they're not going to spend to create a job. We got to do that.
Third, I really want to spend more in this country on vocational education. You know, for you and I and our college age graduates, that cake is already baked. And hopefully the combination of bringing inflation back under control, which will bring interest rates down, which will allow businesses to then reinvest in, expanding and growing, will create the jobs for them.
But we also have to look at folks a few years earlier maybe who college isn't the right thing for them. We have a lot of jobs out there. We have 1.7 empty jobs, right, for every one person who's unemployed, but we don't have the skills. Those people are not skilled in the jobs that we need. So I really believe there's got to be more of an emphasis on vocational education in this country.
You know, the aspiration of college is wonderful. Like, I'm really glad that people in this country now feel like there's almost no barriers to them being able to get a four-year college education, but only if that's what they want, and only if that's what's best for them. And we have to show people that we value vocational training. We value the building trades. We value people who don't need a four-year college education to do what their passion is in their life or what they believe can make them the best living.
So I think we need to have much more of a focus on that, and the federal government should be encouraging that. And so those are the three immediate ways that I would go about doing that. And the answer on China before and how we deal with those issues would be helpful with that as well.
COOPER: I want you to meet Elizabeth Ruh. She's an accountant from New York City. She's a Republican. Welcome.
ELIZABETH RUH, NEW YORK ACCOUNTANT: Governor, I lost my voice, so I apologize. The 2020 election season was one of the most divisive and contentious periods of my 30 years. Neighbor turned against neighbor, family member against family member. Friendships ended over differences in political belief. I think I speak for many Americans when I express the hope that the 2024 cycle is not a repeat of 2020.
You committed to going big when launching this campaign last week in an effort to unify the country. What will you do to avoid reopening these old wounds? Do you believe your rhetoric thus far has aligned with your unifying message?
CHRISTIE: Yeah, I do think it's aligned with it, because I want our country to go big again. I'm tired of us dividing into smaller and smaller groups, because that's just the people we agree with. I'm tired of not going to a dinner party or walking out of one because someone supports somebody that I don't support.
[21:30:12] And here's the problem. And here's what the -- some people would say, well, what the heck's the President got to do with that? Well, if the President's at the top not only encouraging that behavior, but mimicking it, how's it going to change?
Look, I think the single biggest thing I can contribute to unifying this country is to get rid of Joe Biden and get rid of Donald Trump. They are past their sell by dates. OK, it's done. It's time, and they bring an old approach to this that is not constructive in the United Arab country.
Look, Joe Biden looked all of us in the eye in 2020 and said, elect me and I'll bring us together. And then he ran far left and abandoned most of the country philosophically. And so how can he be a uniter in a second term? In a second term, all he'll do is keep doing what he's doing, which is dividing the country even more than we were divided in 2020. So the way I would go about it is very direct and very simple that there is no bad opinion.
You want to express your opinion in this country? Express it. I want to hear it. And then everybody gets around the table and resolves our issues, one at a time. The same way we used to do it at dinner parties before the last 8 or 10 years. Wasn't like there weren't political differences discussed. It's just people didn't start throwing the cutlery, you know, it was a little more civilized, and it wasn't as if our democracy was at stake. See, in the end, if you make everything a crisis, then it will be.
And I heard the president today, Joe Biden, earlier today, talking about how he was concerned about the democracy. If Donald Trump got elected again. And then I heard Donald Trump yelling and screaming about how badly he's been treated. These two guys need to stop worrying so much about themselves and start worrying about you.
And my approach to being president would be the same way it was when I was governor of New Jersey. I got 51% of the Latino vote as a Republican. Why? Because I went and campaigned in those places and let them get to know me and I listen to them. And that's what you need a president to do. Not just go to the places where we're comfortable, go to the places where we're uncomfortable. And let's admit that there's some places as Republicans where we're less comfortable than we are in other places and go there.
One quick thing. I went to Irvington, New Jersey. For those of you in New Jersey know, I got about 350 votes in Irvington, New Jersey, in 2009. So of course, I got about 4000, OK? I told my staff I want to do a town hall meeting in Irvington. They said, sir, you realize that those people are not for you in Irvington. I said, I want to go there.
And I went to a church, a Baptist church in Irvington. And before I went in, I turned the pastor. I said, how many people are here? He goes, we have over 500 people here. So you introduced me on the stage, and they booed me. And I said, you can boo me all you want, because I already won. They said what you mean? I said, there are more people in this church that voted for me two years ago. This is a victory. You came to listen. Let's get to listening to each other again. We hear each other. We don't listen to each other. I went to Irvington
and listened, and I went all across New Jersey to places wet had never voted for a Republican before. And that's why I won 19 out of the 21 counties for reelection, because people said, he cares. He's listening. He respects my opinion. You know, I didn't agree with them many times. And when I didn't, I tell them right to their face, I didn't agree with them. They're not looking. People have different opinions, aren't always looking for you to agree with them. They want to be heard. They want to be taken seriously.
And now, right now, what Donald Trump and Joe Biden are doing to this country is dividing us even further because it's to their advantage. The more divided we are, and that's the only choice we have, then they're going to be the nominees, and one of them is going to win. We need to go differently, folks. We need to go differently.
And I'm willing to fight as hard as anybody. And you watched me over the last 13 years when my state was hit by Sandy. I fought with Republicans and Democrats to make sure my state was taken care of and rebuilt, and it has been. I'm not willing to concede anything on principle, but I am willing to work with anyone of goodwill who wants to make this country better. And can you say the same thing about Donald Trump? Can you say the same thing about Joe Biden?
If you can't, you should think twice and think twice about all the imitators, too. One thing you'll be able to find out about me over the next year and a half, I'm not imitating anybody. This is an original, everybody. This is it, OK? And you're going to see who I am. You're going to get to know me. And if you vote for me, great. And if you don't, at least you'll know who you're not voting for and what's in my heart.
And that's what I'm going to show you and give you. I'm going to fight for you to do that, to have the right to do that. And I'm going to make sure that we remember what we all have in common. We're Americans. And this is the greatest country the world has ever seen.
As we approach 250 years, let's stop the arguing and fighting over the small things and let's work together to win the fights on the big things that will make our children smarter, more prosperous, healthier and safer. We do those things. This country has no rival, hasn't had one before, and won't have one for the next hundred years.
COOPER: Governor Chris Christie, thank you very much for joining us.
COOPER: Thank our audience as well for their questions. CNN's coverage continues with Jake Tapper and Erin Burnett.
CHRISTIE: Thank you so much.