New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie planned all along to stay at the state-owned beach house of the governor over Fourth of July weekend.
But after the state legislature failed to reach a budget compromise on Friday, the government shut down, closing nonessential services in the state, including Island Beach State Park outside the governor’s residence.
Reporters asked Christie on Saturday whether he thought the optics of him staying at the beachside resort amid the shutdown were a good idea, since the public couldn’t access state beaches.
“That’s just the way it goes,” he said. “Run for governor, and you can have a residence.”
Then, NJ Advance Media photojournalist Andrew Mills took photos of Christie enjoying the empty beach with his friends and family on Sunday. At a press conference afterward, Christie was asked if he enjoyed the beach on Sunday, and said he “didn’t get any sun today.”
When NJ.com posted them online Sunday night, they immediately went viral, sparking public outrage. The governor’s spokesman, Brian Murray, then attempted to clarify that Christie was, in fact, at the beach, but “he did not get any sun” because “he had a baseball hat on.”
‘You know the optics’
Christie spent much of Monday defending his actions, in interviews with local Fox affiliates and on Twitter.
When Fox 29 in Philadelphia asked him about the photos and why he was enjoying the beach when the public couldn’t, Christie sarcastically said it was an “incredible scandal.”
“A week ago today, I told people we had plans to be here, and whether it shut down or it didn’t, we were going to be here because it’s our residence,” he added. “They actually caught a politician keeping his word.”
Co-host Alex Holley then asked: “But governor you can understand, though, why a lot of people are upset. They can’t go to that beach, they want to be able to do what you were doing, and they can’t!”
“Well, I’m sorry they’re not the governor,” Christie replied. “I mean, this is a residence. Here’s the problem: We have a residence in Princeton, as well, and that place is a place where people can go and tour, but they can’t if the government’s closed. Am I supposed to move out and stay in a hotel?”
Co-host Mike Jerrick interrupted, “No, but governor, you know the optics of this.”
“This is the problem with politics today,” Christie said. “When I tell you the substance of the problem, then you say, ‘Well, you know the optics.’ The fact is, the reason the park is closed is one simple reason. I didn’t close it. The legislature did not pass a budget to me, for me to sign, so that we’d have the money to keep it open. That’s the simple fact of the matter. And I told the legislature all week last week, and I told them again yesterday: ‘Pass me any budget. I will sign any budget that you give me.’ They can’t The fight is not between me and the legislature. The fight is between the Democrats in the legislature.”
He said largely the same thing when he called in to Fox 5 in New York on Monday morning. When anchor Teresa Priolo brought up his record-low 15% approval rating, he again blamed the $US34.7 billion budget deadlock on the legislature, and then faulted the media for taking photos of him.
“Most of the time when they catch politicians with hidden cameras and planes flying over you, they catch you with someone you’re not supposed to be with. I was actually with who I was supposed to be with and where I was supposed to be,” Christie said. “And I really wonder about journalists who spend money flying planes to look whether people are actually where they said they would be. I’m sure there are Pulitzers coming, it will be great.”
The governor’s official Twitter account retweeted New Jersey city and local accounts all day on Monday that were posting about how their beaches were open while the state’s were closed. He also posted pictures of his own showing hordes of people on the shoreline:
“NJ beaches are open in 119 of our our 130 miles of coastline,” Christie tweeted. “Our beaches are open & full of people. Come & see for yourself!”
With the shutdown closing its third day, state lawmakers have yet to reach a compromise to pass a budget that would reopen the government.
Another beautiful day at the Jersey shore. Our beaches are open & full of people. Come & see for yourself! And you can hit the boardwalk! pic.twitter.com/Y55URA0mdg
— Governor Christie (@GovChristie) July 3, 2017
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