Obama And Chris Christie Tour Rebuilding On Jersey Shore

May 28, 2013
Originally published on May 29, 2013 8:43 am
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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.

Today, President Obama toured the Jersey shore, surveying the recovery work that's been done since Superstorm Sandy devastated the area seven months ago. The visit was also a reunion for the president and an unlikely political ally, the Republican governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie. NPR's Mara Liasson reports on their bipartisan relationship and the political benefits for both men.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: On the surface, it's clear what Governor Christie gets out of the president's visit: lots of national attention to the resurrection of the Jersey shore. Here's Christie as the two men stopped in Asbury Park.

GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE: The enthusiasm, the spirit of all the people of this town, you could just feel it. And everybody is ready to welcome America back to the Jersey shore this summer, and so am I.

LIASSON: For President Obama, it was a chance to take a break from the partisan gridlock in Washington and to change the channel from the focus on the IRS to another federal agency - FEMA - that, in contrast, is seen as helpful and efficient.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: FEMA was here before Sandy made landfall. They're still here today. They're working with the governor's team and with the task force I set up to support families and communities that still need help. Since the storm hit, we've provided billions of dollars to families and state and local governments across the region, and more is on the way.

LIASSON: The president and the governor are different in every way, shape and form: One is a blunt, in-your-face Republican, the other a cerebral Democrat, but both men were eager to showcase their unlikely bipartisan rapport. They tossed a football. They high-fived. Christie even won a stuffed teddy bear in an arcade game on the boardwalk.

OBAMA: We played some Touchdown Fever. I got to say, Christie got it in the tire the first try, although I did pay for his throws.

LIASSON: Despite criticism from fellow Republicans, Christie has not been deterred from making common cause with Mr. Obama, says political analyst Stu Rothenberg.

STUART ROTHENBERG: Some of this is Chris Christie's stubbornness, and he likes to do some things, I think, that don't always play well with his Republican colleagues, and he enjoys that. But you also have to remember that he does have a governor's race coming up, and playing nice with the president when the president is concerned about how New Jersey communities are being rebuilt, that's a good thing for the governor.

LIASSON: So, short term, the bromance with the president is a good thing. Long term, maybe not.

ROTHENBERG: The more he associates himself with the president, the more conservative critics are going to paint Chris Christie as Barack Obama's favorite Republican governor, and that's not a good thing. Down the road, I think if he runs for president, this will be thrown back in his face.

LIASSON: And it already has. Last fall, after Hurricane Sandy hit, President Obama traveled to New Jersey to meet with Christie. It was a week before Election Day, and the president's numbers got a small boost. Christie's fellow Republicans were furious, and Christie was pointedly not invited to speak at this year's Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington.

That kind of backlash might happen again if Christie decides to seek his party's nomination. But for now, he seems content to showcase his bipartisan chops and try for a big re-election victory in the blue state of New Jersey. Mara Liasson, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.