CNBC Exclusive: CNBC's John Harwood Interviews New Jersey Governor Chris Christie From CNBC Institutional Investor Delivering Alpha Conference Today
WHEN: WEDNESDAY, JULY 16TH
WHERE: CNBC'S "Power Lunch"
Following is the unofficial transcript of a CNBC EXCLUSIVE interview with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie live from the CNBC Institutional Investor Delivering Alpha conference in New York City on Wednesday, July 16th.
Following are links to the video of the interview on CNBC.com: http://video.cnbc.com/gallery/?video=3000293176, http://video.cnbc.com/gallery/?video=3000293238, http://video.cnbc.com/gallery/?video=3000293239 and http://video.cnbc.com/gallery/?video=3000293216.
Mandatory credit: CNBC Institutional Investor Delivering Alpha conference.
JOHN HARWOOD: Good evening, everybody. Great to be here, and we'll get right into the it. Look who's going to Iowa.
CHRIS CHRISTIE: Yes.
JOHN HARWOOD: Are you going to explore that whole issue again?
CHRIS CHRISTIE: If need be. But I'm going to campaign for Branstad tomorrow, who's running for re-election again as governer of Iowa, and also good to work for the speaker of the house out there, also Republican. So we'll spend the day out there, sleeping in New Jersey tomorrow night.
JOHN HARWOOD: I know you haven't decided an if you had, I wouldn't expect you to announce it here, but --
Knowing what you know right now, are you leaning toward it? Are you thinking it's what could happen?
CHRIS CHRISTIE: This is another way of asking a question, isn't it?
JOHN HARWOOD: Well, yeah.
CHRIS CHRISTIE: Are you leaning? Yes. No, I'm not leaning in any way, because I'm not giving it a lot of thought at the moment. I'm chairman of the Republican Governors Association. My job is to represent the governors, if I can. I don't have a 527 or super-PAC, all those --
JOHN HARWOOD: But we are in the second half of 2014.
CHRIS CHRISTIE: I'm aware. The folks who are leaning or actually doing stuff light now are oftentimes folks who people don't know all that well. I suffer from a lot of things. That's not one of them, so I'm in no rush to make those decisions. I got at pretty busy day job as governor of New Jersey and I've got, you know, a busy job politically and chairman of the RJA.
JOHN HARWOOD: When do you think you would have to decide?
CHRIS CHRISTIE: End of this year, beginning of next. Whether I would tell you or anyone else at that point, I'm not so sure about the typing of that. That's more of a political judgment, than it is a -- I'll be clear. I certainly am going to consider it, but whether I do it or not is something I honestly don't know yet. And I think people say that all the time, and folks are fairly cynical, but -- yes, he knows what he's going to do.
I really don't know what I'm going to do. I think when you have four relatively younger children, like we have, from 20 to 11, you know, there's a lot to consider in doing this at a personal level, putting the -- we'll decide. I'll decide coming beginning of next year.
JOHN HARWOOD: Talk about your party and what you or any presidential candidate faces, if they decide to lead the party nationally. Pew Research Center did a study of voters of both parties. On the Republican side, you have a split between the business Republicans, the people in this room and your Tea Party Republicans, these guys have the money. The populist group has more votes.
When you look at attitudes on issues, there are stark divisions. Populists say international trade is bad for the country. Business Republicans say it's good. Populists say don't think about cutting Social Security. Immigration, populists say it's bad. Homosexuality, the populist wing says not okay. People in this room, business Republicans say it's okay. How do you knit those together?
CHRIS CHRISTIE: Carefully.
I think the only way to knit them together is through yourself. You -- every time you try to skew toward one part of a party -- by the way, the Democrats have the same problem. They're just on different topics, but they ever the same problem.
There's always divides inside any vibrant, political movement, and so the way is just be yourself, here's what I believe in. And try to convince people that if what they are look for is a candidate they agree with 100% of the time, what they need to do is go home and look in the mirror. They're it. You are the only person you agree with 100% of the time on these issues. So don't try to be that. If you try to be that, they are going to perceive you as a phony, because you are.
So don't look at someone's eyes and say oh, I know what you are thinking. I could feel it and I just want to tell her exactly what she wants to hear, and then pray to God she forgets what I said when I do the opposite. Just own up to it, own up to what your positions are, say what they are.
If that's not good enough to win, you wouldn't want to the govern under those circumstances, because you have to keep remembering who you pretended to be yesterday. I don't think that's the way the government, complicated enough as it is, without trying to figure that out too.
JOHN HARWOOD: You know and we're beginning to feel again that we can make an economy produce high stock values, high corporate profits, do very well for the people who are best off in the country, the most educated, but if you were elected president, what do you do to raise the living standards of average people in this country? What's the right approach for that?
CHRIS CHRISTIE: First off, the premise of the question, if I were elected president, presupposes I would actually run. That's another way to get me into that topic.
JOHN HARWOOD: Forget the president part. Just --
CHRIS CHRISTIE: I would say this. There are certain principles that help to create a vibrant economy, and I think things we are not doing at the moment. First off, we have a wretched tax system in this country, federally, individual, corporate level and at the state-based level in lots of states, including my own; dis-incentivizes entrepreneurial job creation and which make us less competitive with the rest of the world. So the fact is, we need to get around the table and redo this tax system, which I think is one of the real -- on our economy.
Secondly, you need to go through regulatory reform. In New Jersey, we have eliminated a third of regulations that existed and into place by Governor Corzine. I could tell you I hear from businesses what a relief that's been for them and how much easier it is to conduct business and our water is cleaner and air is cleaner and there's nothing awful happening other in New Jersey, because we decided to do regulation in a common sense way. We need to look at that federally as well, if you want a vibrant growing economy in that direction.
Third is about improving our educational system. The fact is that we have now gone from 20th to 30th in math. We have now gone from 10th to 20th in reading, amongst the industrial said nations. If we can continue that trend and still be the smartest most competitive, most cutting edge economy in the world, then you're wrong.
JOHN HARWOOD: That's why you support Common Core.
CHRIS CHRISTIE: What I support is to try to change something that's much more important than Common Core. The most important factor besides a family to successful education is the teacher in front of the classroom. More than anything else is what is the training and experience and effectiveness of that person standing in front of the classroom.
We have an educational system in this country now that puts the come for the of adults before the children. We don't want to disturb anyone, we don't want to say anything bad. It's crazy.
The fact is, there are ineffective teachers all across the country, protected by the tenure system that is the essence of anti-competitiveness. We're for competition everywhere else in the world, but we are not for competition in the K to 12 classrooms in America. And we expect somehow that's going to produce a good result. It is not.
So from my perspective, before we get to what's the curriculum in the classroom and all those other issues, you need to first get to having a competitive educational system that rewards good teachers. You should have merit pay across the country and they should get paid more if they are good. And we should haven't a system that allows bad teachers to be guaranteed a job for life.
And I don't know; if anybody in this room ran their business that way, they wouldn't be in this room. So the fact is if we like success around our country based upon competitiveness and vigorous back and forth that happens in that say of Socratic circumstances, we need to demand -- those are three things I think could help make everybody -- not just people at the bottom, the middle or the top.
JOHN HARWOOD: Let me ask about the macro division between the two parties. Essentially, what you hear from Republicans in Washington is government needs to do less, spend less, we need to borrow less, get out of the way. From Democrats you say we need, as Hillary Clinton said recently, the building blocks in the 21st Century industry; more workforce training, more science. Where are you on that?
CHRIS CHRISTIE: The fact is the difference between Republicans and Democrats, Democrats believe the government are the people who could be doing those things that Mrs. Clinton mentioned and Republicans believe the private sector is better to do that. That's the fundamental core disagreement. Now having run a government for five years, I agree with my party even more than I did before.
JOHN HARWOOD: You see her as a big-spending Democratic liberal, who wants to grow government?
CHRIS CHRISTIE: No. I think you said that.
JOHN HARWOOD: Right. Do you say that?
CHRIS CHRISTIE: I'm not going to talk about the Secretary and characterizing her in any way. Let her speak for herself. My view is she said those things. Then all of you out there, who get to vote and judge the officials, can judge what that makes her.
JOHN HARWOOD: You think we need less government?
CHRIS CHRISTIE: I think we need less government being intrusive in our lives in every way it is. Now, there are absolute fundamental roles for government, which is protecting the health, safety and welfare of its citizens. So I believe in a strong and vigorous national defense, I believe that government has an appropriate role in regulated different activities that go on in the country, but I think what's happened is there's a divide between the two parties, where who can do most of that best.
It's not that Republicans don't believe government has a role. Of course we believe --
JOHN HARWOOD: You think it's wrong to say the government needs to spend more money on infrastructure, education and science?
CHRIS CHRISTIE: Well, I for certain believe it's wrong to say government need to spend more money on education. In my state, we spend $17,700 per pupil on average on K to 12 education. We do not have a spending problem in education in New Jersey. We have a quality problem in many parts of our state.
JOHN HARWOOD: What about infrastructure, science and --
CHRIS CHRISTIE: Infrastructure is uniquely a governmental role. The question is, I look back on this administration and say they squandered the stimulus on things that were for than constituency, rather than building infrastructure.
With the all the money they spent, they did little infrastructure spending, now complaining we need to do for infrastructure spending, where were you back in 20009 when we were allowing the government to spend all this money in the midst of a financial crisis, then wind up spending it on our public sect per union -- now make the choice is much harder. Because you spend all the than money already. Now you want to spend more.
Well, where's the money coming from exactly? We do need at some point to say there's a bottom to this. But do I think that infrastructure is something the government needs to invest inform and needs to partner with folks on? Absolutely I do, but the way you laid out the things secretary Clinton said is a rather simplistic siloed approach to that, which is only the government can do it. It is not only the government that can do it.
JOHN HARWOOD: Speaking of hitting the bottom, a lot of people in your party, when Obama came in and took the actions that he took said we are going to have huge inflation, we are going to have -- people won't lend us money anymore, the economy is going to crater, we are going to be Greece.
That hasn't happened. The economy is recovering. Stock market is up. To you guys, is there a point at which you say all those Chicken Little warnings that our party was making were just wrong?
CHRIS CHRISTIE: No. I think that what we had is the -- hold on. You asked me a question. Let me answer.
If you don't think it's responsive, you can come back. You know the way this works, John. We have done this before.
What we've had is the most stagnant, limp, absolutely unimpressive recovery post-recession that we have seen in the country in decades. And so, you know, the fact is that America still has one of the largest, if not the largest and best economy in the world. But talk to people on the streets every day in New Jersey and ask them if they feel -- I would say the majority of my citizens don't.
And so if the job of the president was merely to avoid catastrophe, congratulations. But I don't think that's what the only job of the president in attempting to steward an economic recovery is. And so whether you judge it a failure or success or judge some predictions by Republicans to be a failure or success is something that is going to look at; but what we know is what it is today, which is a large number of our citizens in my state and across the country are unimpressed with the this recovery and the effect it had on their lives.
JOHN HARWOOD: What responsibility do you have as governor, that job creation has been slower and unemployment higher in New Jersey?
CHRIS CHRISTIE: Some. Listen, you are the guy in charge, so you have some responsibility for it; but I haven't been able to put a lot of policies I wanted to put in effect; the tax policy in particular, because I have a Democratic legislature who has passed, in this context, of what we are talking about, four income tax increase in the last five years. And I have vetoed all of them.
Forget about -- cutting taxes, like I'm the guy at the gate, trying to keep the Barbarians away from increasing taxes more. Just a week and a half ago, I vetoed another increase, significant proposed corporate business tax increase, because they have to continue to feed the beast of their patrons in the public sector union.
JOHN HARWOOD: You don't have a New Jersey miracle, success to talk about.
CHRIS CHRISTIE: The miracle in New Jersey is every day, we get up and still like each other.
That's the miracle in New Jersey, but great stuff. I said a few year ago, the New Jersey comeback has begun. That got -- folks in the press that say the governer is talking about New Jersey miracle. I never used that phrase. The reason they use it is because they want to say and it didn't happen. I never said it happened.
The comeback has certainly begun. Unemployment when I came to office was 10%. It's now down below 7. We have created 145,000 new private sector jobs since February 2010. Taxes haven't been increased in five years for the first time in 25 years.
Everything is within context. So if you are dealing in a blue state like New Jersey, a high cost, high tax states, and you have been able to keep things stable for four and a half years. The legislature is trying to increase taxes all the time. I'm content with what I have been able to do.
JOHN HARWOOD: Let me ask about other things the Obama administration has done. They get criticism on their left, but also some from the Tea Party right who say the Obama administration bailed out Wall Street, people who did things wrong and they haven't prosecuted people, people want to go to jail for some of the stuff that's happened. Do you agree with that?
CHRIS CHRISTIE: Spent seven years as the prosecutor in New Jersey; I understand these are lot more nuanced than that. I don't know everything the prosecutors know about what their investigations uncovered, and I'm not going to be one of those guys to sit here and be a Monday morning quarterback on that stuff. I know how complicated it is. I did it seven years. So it's the easiest thing to dump on them. I'm not going to do that.
JOHN HARWOOD: Don't fault them for how they approached it?
CHRIS CHRISTIE: I don't know, John. I can't give them credit or fault them. What I know, as a former prosecutor, the greatest thing about that job was only you know what you know. So that's your job as a prosecutor, to ferret out facts. If you believe there are facts beyond a reasonable doubt to bring charges against someone, then you do it. If you don't, you don't. That's the responsible way to go about it. It would be irresponsible of me to sit here and critique them, when I don't know what they knew.
And it's very difficult to do the kind of work they are talking about, the white collar criminal investigation that you have to do in the circumstance you are talking about, with the financial crisis.
JOHN HARWOOD: -- financial sediments they have been able to get from companies, or do you see that as shakedown by the administration?
CHRIS CHRISTIE: You know, where do you stand on it depends on where you sit. If you're paying it, you know, I guess you would say -- there's an element of a shakedown. If you're from the government perspective, you are saying this is one of the ways we hold you responsible for bad conduct. So I think we always have to be vigilant about there being appropriate balance. Prosecuted --
JOHN HARWOOD: Inclined to think they struck a decent balance?
CHRIS CHRISTIE: I don't know what they knew. So how did they reach the numbers they reached? Were they based on fact, or pick them out of a hat? Was it based upon vigorous negotiation, or did someone have a gun to one's head? Those are all things that happened in our system, inside the conference rooms of the U.S. Attorney's offices across this country.
I'm not going to sit here and opine on things that I know involve facts that are beyond the knowledge that I have. I hated it when politicians did that when I was making judgments. I'm sure not going to do the same thing I hated when I was on the inside, now that I'm on the outside.
All right with that?
JOHN HARWOOD: One of the things that we started to hear a lot in your party, especially from the populist party, is critiques of crony capitalism, the system; like some on the left say is rigged, and people have inside dealings with Washington. And what's come to stand as the emblem of that, there was an issue in Virginia, the question of the export, import bank, which Eric Cantor supported, and the populist wing and the Republican party said that is crony capitalism. It's helping Boeing other big companies make deals. They can make the deals themselves. Do you agree with them?
CHRIS CHRISTIE: I think those issues are much more complicated than a lot of people want to take me out to be. The fact is that the government, I think, does have a role in trying to make our country as competitive as we can be, with the folks around the world. Now --
JOHN HARWOOD: Many have programs like that across the country.
CHRIS CHRISTIE: Of course. We have to decide how we want it to be and what basis we want it to be. I don't disagree with folks who say there are times when that goes over board and that's -- that's where the congress is supposed to be vigilant about. And if they believe that's the case, then they need to step in and develop something about it. And if the people don't like what the congress is doing, they kick people out.
JOHN HARWOOD: We do need to have an export import bank?
CHRIS CHRISTIE: No. What I said was, I think we need to have those time of programs that are present in the congress believe it's more competitive. We need to have more free trade agreements around the world. I think you need to be encourageing more trade around the world. When America trades with other countries in a free way, America usually does much beater, because of the ingenuity, because of technology we have, because of the entrepreneurial spirit we have in this country, I think we do better.
JOHN HARWOOD: You're --
CHRIS CHRISTIE: I'm the governor of New Jersey. I don't spend a lot of time focusing on the export import. I'm not going to pretend to have opinions about things that will be ill-informed and just go, I think I want to be with those folks. What do you think. I'm going to be with them.
JOHN HARWOOD: I don't think you're ill-informed.
CHRIS CHRISTIE: You can't imagine how ill-informed I am.
The fact is, if and when there's a time that comes that I need to be telling people in this country what my view is on those issues, I will, but until that time, I think it's quite frankly immature, to be expressing a lot of those opinions just because I'm sitting up here in front of this room. You could ask whoever you like. I don't have to answer. If I don't think my answer will be smart and stand the test of tile, you can be damn sure I'm not going to answer, because you have this tape and you will use it.
JOHN HARWOOD: Well, let me ask you about a New Jersey-specific issue. I was reading this morning an article in "National Review," which said you were an alleged free marketeer; but what you did on Tesla and not having your motor vehicle commission change a rule to prevent them from selling directly to consumers showed the power of special interests in New Jersey, auto dealers, that you are not a free --
CHRIS CHRISTIE: It's simply crap. Here's what it shows. The legislature passed a law and previous governor signed the law requiring in New Jersey that if you were going to sell automobiles, you must do it through a dealership. Now, Tesla comes in with their new model to sell direct, and I give Tesla a year to sell direct. Operating completely outside the law. And I just said listen, you need to get together with the legislature. I'm not going to stem in and enforce this law vigorously right now, because I will give you time to work with the legislature. I would like them to be able to sell direct. They didn't do anything. After a while, I take an oath to enforce the law, not just the ones I like, but all of them --
JOHN HARWOOD: But your motor vehicle commission did change the regulation.
CHRIS CHRISTIE: No. We enforced a regulation that already existed based upon a statute. The fact is we looked the other way for a year, to allow Tesla to do what they are doing. I can't just pick and choose the laws to enforce. So I give them what I felt was a reasonable period of time to operate the way they were operating. And to go to the legislature and get it changes.
JOHN HARWOOD: The expense of the New Jersey consumers.
CHRIS CHRISTIE: What would you expect them to say? Thanks?
I mean, listen. Elon's not happy, because in New Jersey, it is a law that says you can't do what he did. I don't like the law either. I didn't vote for it, I didn't sign it. I don't like it, but I don't get to just ignore the laws I don't like. So I love "The National Review." I read it all the time; but they are just dead wrong on this. And the fact is that that's a problem, all due respect, some of your national guys who parachute into a state-specific issue, listen to a particular interest group that's in your ear and say I figured it out. Well, like I said about the --
JOHN HARWOOD: Are you saying the press sometimes gets things wrong?
CHRIS CHRISTIE: As much as it pains me to say that John, yes. And the thing is, it's a mirror -- an absolute mirrored example of what I was saying, why I point talk about some of the I wases you are asking me about. I know I don't know enough about those to give an intelligent answer. They're wrong. Elon has a point of view driven by his dire to be profitable. God love him. Great. Now there's a law sitting on my desk now that will let him do something, but in the sake token, makes our state everyone more anticompetitive from an automobile manufacturer's perspective. That's the kind of stuff that kind up getting put on your desk and you have to make the decision about how to balance it. But anyone who looks at New Jersey with the drop of regulations we had in our state and says I'm not someone who favors free markets is someone who's got a personal interest in it, like Elon does; and he's wrong.
JOHN HARWOOD: At the risk of walking into that trap, the fact that your state is not going to make the contribution -- or you said you're not going to make the contribution to the pension system, doesn't that suggest that the achievement which you have been hailing as a major step forward has actually been unraveled and is not an achievement because you don't have a funded pension program?
CHRIS CHRISTIE: No. First of all, what I'm doing is making the pension payments that we can afford to make and the pension payment that takes care of all of the current employees. All current employees who are making an increased pension payment themselves, we're making the payment for all of them. What I can't afford to do this year because of declining revenues is pay for the since of my predecessors.
JOHN HARWOOD: Why not increase revenues?
CHRIS CHRISTIE: Because New Jersey is already the second highest tax state in America. I have to make a balanced judgment between the benefit of making an increased pension payment versus the harm that will be done by taking our top income tax rate to 10.75%.
JOHN HARWOOD: Isn't that the price of solving that problem?
CHRIS CHRISTIE: No. The price of solving -- that would give -- the taxes the legit which are put in front of me, would give us $1.5 more in refer crew in fiscal year. The pension payment, based on current program, has to go not to 2.25 billion, but to 5 billion. So what tax am I going to raise the next year and next year? We can't afford it. The way to solve the problem is to further reform these pensions and make them less costly. That's what we have to do. That's what the achievement of the pension reform in 2007 was and continues to be, because our payment for current employees is going down. It's the legacy part that is the problem and now we have to figure out how to fix the legacy apartment. That's why I'm running around advocating for, hoping the legislature will have the current to do the right thing. Otherwise, we will be Detroit.
JOHN HARWOOD: Let me ask you a style question. You have a reputation, appearance of being straight-talking, problem-solver, but we can also listen to you say the legislature is the one who messed up Tesla, the state economists overestimated revenues, past goers yeah quited the pension problem. It sound as if like you are passing off responsibility to others, having run in 2009 and saying hey, you sit in the big chair, it's on you.
CHRIS CHRISTIE: It is on me. Answering the question. I'm telling you the truth. May not like it, but the truth is I didn't sign the law that prevented Tesla from doing it. A previous governor did. The truth is I didn't dig the hole in the pension system, that I made more payments to the pension system, $2.9 billion, than any other governor in New Jersey history. In fact, in the 15 years before I got here, they made about 20% of that amount in terms of payments. That's a fact. That's not ducking responsibility. Because I'm the one now trying to solve it. That's taking responsibility. But I also have -- I don't have an obligation to suck things in I didn't do. I have the obligation to try to solve it, but I'm not going to take responsibility for every part of the stupid tough my predecessors did, no. By the way, I would suggest being blunt too. Normally, what people in my position do is say, well, you know, my distinguished predecessor probably had other judgments he had to make in that regard, so I can't question what he did there. Come on.
JOHN HARWOOD: The way Obama's dealt with Bush?
CHRIS CHRISTIE: I think he's started to understand now, it was more complicated than he thought when he first ran for it. So I'm completely taking responsibility for being the guy in the chair, who's going to try to solve the problem, but two things. That does not mean I will take responsible for every dumb thing people did before me to yes cite the problem and secondly, I'm not a dictator as much as I would love to be. I'm not. So some of these --
JOHN HARWOOD: You would love it.
CHRIS CHRISTIE: I would.
By the way, so would everybody in this room, right? President Bush said one time, dictatorships are not necessarily a bad thing. It depends who the dictator is. You would love to be able to solve your problem by dictating the solutions to problems, but that's not our system. So I'm not the only one responsible. The legislature has a responsibility in this regard as well to act in a way that will help us solve the problems. Part of my job is to persuade them, through the gentle, calm and kind manner that I have. That's what I'm going to try to do.
JOHN HARWOOD: One dumb thing that everybody -- the whole world knows about that happened on your watch was the bridge closure. I was talking to an aide to one of the most powerful Republicans in Washington. He said here's what I want to know. When you are a senior aide to an important politician like that, you develop a sense of what's okay with them and what isn't. And most staffers do not go rogue and do things they know their boss would disapprove of. He said the issues isn't whether Christie now about the lane closures. It's how did he one an administration where people very close to him thought that was okay Todd.
CHRIS CHRISTIE: Well, the key part of that brilliant aid's analysis, who's probably never run anything in his or her life is when he or she said most aides don't do that. Key part of that. Most aides. The whole point is that when someone goes rogue, as -- the definition is you are doing something that isn't acceptable. Someone went rogue on my watch. Now, listen. I'm accountable for that, and if you haven't watched what's been going on the last six months, I think there's been a decent amount of accountability thrown my way, and I have accepted.
But it does not mean -- this is the normal Washington -- that's why I'm glad to hear it's from a Washington aide. When this happens, first happens, they want to put you in cuffs and send you away. He had to have known. He knew. And you look at the beginning of the coverage, he knew.
Now, when I turn over every e-mail, every text message, everyone gets to look at it, and it's become clear now, he didn't know. Then they go okay, well, then we lose. So let's shift it to oh, he didn't know, but he created an atmosphere where this type of thing was permissible. Bull. I didn't. In fact, the atmosphere we created over time has allowed for more bipartisan accomplishment than you have seen in probably any state capitol across the country, with a Republican governer and Democratic legislature. Why would Democrats ever sit down with me, let alone make agreements with me that, in fact, I kept to and they kept to? So the point is, someone went rogue. I am very unhappy about that, and extraordinarily disappointed, and saddened by it. I am ultimately accountable for it, but don't give me this garbage and he created an atmosphere.
JOHN HARWOOD: Why isn't it a straight line from tough guy, are you stupid, you keep on walking on the jersey shore, to time for traffic problems.
CHRIS CHRISTIE: I don't see where the straight line is. No, I don't see it. I don't.
JOHN HARWOOD: But the straight line --
CHRIS CHRISTIE: If that was the straight line, it would have happened many more times than just at the tail end of the fourth year of the administration. What I'm telling you, contrast that with the fact that we passed bipartisan tax reform that we passed bipartisan pension benefit form, four budgets without closing a government down in difficult economic times, all of which had to be done with a Democratic legislature. If what you think that directness leads to is, if you don't do what I want, I will punch you, well why would they ever make a deal with me? They are a co-equal branch of government. What it led to is clear, direct leadership.
The people understand where I stand, and who I am. That's why the people of New Jersey don't believe that I had anything to do with this, because they know me. And they have gotten to know me over the years. The fact is, when you reason an organization of 65,000 employees, there are going to be times people do things that are monumentally stupid and maybe inexplicable to the person at the top. This would be one of those moments. I can't explain it. I wish I could, but I can't. My job then is to take decisive action in the aftermath. We terminated the people who were involved with it, we put together a private group to go and look at what happened here, give me suggestions about how to change the structure of my office, to prevent it in the future. And then to fully cooperate with any authority outside authority looking at that conduct, which we have done, both with the legislature and with prosecutors. If you are a responsible, that's all you can. If that disqualifies you from being perceived as an effective leader, then the few people left who have not had one of these experiences will soon be disqualified too, because they will have it.
So I wish it never happened, believe me. I wish it never happened, but the fact is, what happened what happened. I took responsibility for it. I trialed to fix the problem as best I can and I will work as hard I can to make sure nothing like that or anything else that's rogue happens again, but I think you ask any people in this room, one of the things that leaves you awake at night is there's lots of people acting in your name evidence day and you have no idea what they are doing. That's one of the risks of leadership.
JOHN HARWOOD: As we let you go, you are running?
CHRIS CHRISTIE: Such a great question.
You know, let met give you a different answer. Because you were obnoxious enough to ask again, so I may as well give you something. The fact is that you should beware of people, in my opinion, who are overanxious to make that decision before they need to. That would indicate to me ambition before wisdom. And I don't think that's what you want from the person sitting in the oval office. I think what you want from that person is wisdom and strength and determination and they're there for a reason, not just for the title. And I think anybody who at that moment decided hey, I'm the guy, no, be careful of that person, I think. So I'm going to be very deliberative about this. I've got lots of people who are in any ear all the time, telling many you got to do this. Well, all those people are in my ear in 2010 and 2011. What they learn-side, I do what I want to do. And what I think is best for me first, for my family second, for my state third and for my country fourth. That's the order of responsibility I have. You have to be responsible for yourself first, responsible for yourself, you can't be responsible for anyone else. Care about your family next if you are responsible for them. I took an oath of office, been elected twice in my state. Responsible to them next, because they gave me the job if the first place. And my country, because I am an American and care about the country and I will make a decision based on all four of those factors, but not a moment before I have to. And so everyone will keep asking, and by the way, it's pretty nice to be -- if you really stink, they don't ask. You know? If you're awful, no one's asking.
I had some of my predecessors that were never asked. I can guarantee you, man. Never asked. So, you know, I have people come to me all the time, say, gosh, it must be a burden, right. These people bothering you all the time, run for president or not. Oh, yeah, such a burden to be asked if you want to be leader of the free world. It's terrible to be thought of in that way. It's enormously flattering.
By answering it the way I am, I don't want to leave you or anyone else with the impression that I'm not I didn't know credibly flattered by the question. I am, but being flattered isn't enough of a reason to run. And so I'm going to take it seriously, I will do it like I do everything, as hard and as direct and as much of myself-size I possibly can muster up in doing that job. And pursuing it. If I don't, you can come to the conclusion that I didn't, because I didn't judge it was good for me, my family, my state or my country. That's the way the decision will be made. So when we get together the next time and ask me again, I may be at the point I'm ready to decide. If not, I will come up another answer to end the conversation.
JOHN HARWOOD: I think we can agree Governor Christie is worth every single penny we paid him today.
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