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All In
updated 5/29/2013 1:19:41 PM ET 2013-05-29T17:19:41

Christie's handling of Hurricane Sandy earned him bipartisan praise and record-high popularity, but now almost eight months out since the superstorm struck New Jersey's coast, Christie's response is taking shape on political sides.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was soaking up the revelry around the Jersey Shore’s post-Hurricane Sandy reopening this Memorial Day, ceremoniously cutting a monstrous ribbon and leading President Obama and packs of cameras around the boardwalk.

Christie’s handling of the superstorm earned him bipartisan praise and record-high popularity, but now almost eight months out since Sandy struck New Jersey’s coast, Christie’s response to the storm is taking shape on political sides.

NBC’s Matt Lauer recently asked Christie about the relationship between the storm and climate change, and the governor responded, “I haven’t been shown any definitive proof yet that that’s what caused it. And this is just, listen, this is a distraction. I’ve got a place to rebuild here and people want to talk to me about esoteric theories.”

Christie saw a major boost in approval ratings after Sandy. His numbers in New Jersey jumped from 56% in October to 74% in February. It now stands at 69%, still a high number for a Republican governor — and the Republican National Convention’s keynote speaker —  in a state that President Obama won by more than 17 points in 2012. Part of Christie’s boost can be attributed to when he famously surveyed the damage with President Obama after the storm, praised the president’s swift response, and even called a press conference in January for the sole purpose of blasting House Republicans who refused to vote for a Sandy relief bill.

On All In Tuesday night, MSNBC host Chris Hayes underscored these recent climate change comments as the moment where Christie takes a step back toward the Republican base and possible national aspirations.

“With his approval ratings high and his political strength in New Jersey shored up, his challenge right now is not governing, but beginning to remember how to tell the Republican base everything they want to hear,” said Hayes. “And it’s looking like climate denialism is going to be central to that strategy.”

Christie’s likely Democratic opponent will be State Senator Barbara Buono in November’s gubernatorial election.

Watch Hayes discuss Christie’s comments with Hurricane relief consultant and Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center Director James Perry and The Nation’s Executive Editor Richard Kim in the player above.

Video: Christie embraces climate denialism

  1. Closed captioning of: Christie embraces climate denialism

    >>> good evening from new york, i'm chris hayes , and thank you for joining us, and welcome back. all right. tonight, how john mccain spent his holiday weekend, not like mine, hint, his involves sneaking into a war zone and ratcheting up the syrian conflict.

    >>> plus, he's loud, he's rude, the mayor of a major metropolitan city and he's embroiled in the craziest political scam in north america . and the single most controversial piece of kitchenware in the entire world. but we begin tonight on the jersey shore where the american political equivalent of snooki and j. wow have reunited for one more stroll down the boardwalk. seven months after hurricane sandy , president obama returned to new jersey to survey the recovery efforts and announce to the world after millions of dollars spent on rebuilding, the shore was back open for business. he was joined, of course, by chris christie who led the president around and even won a teddy bear for him in the football tossing game at the arcade. it was all very sweet, very reminiscent of the iconic images from days after superstorm sandy . days before the presidential election and chris christie thanked president obama for his efforts in getting new jersey the federal aid it needed.

    >> he has worked incredibly closely with me since before the storm hit. i think this is our sixth conversation since the weekend. and it's -- it's been a great working relationship. i cannot thank the president enough for his personal concern and compassion for our state and for the people of our state .

    >> governor's open embrace of the president six days before the election angered the base of his party. not quite as much when christie called a press conference on january 2nd for the sole purpose of eviscerating house republicans for stalling on sandy aid.

    >> there's only one group to blame for the continued suffering of these innocent victims. the house majority and their speaker, john boehner . it was disappointing and disgusting to watch.

    >> all right. those big iconic moments between the president and chris christie and chris christie and house republicans, they reflected a pivot from christie and a reflective one at that. he gave a keynote at the republican national convention . but look at this, his approval ratings since then, since from the storm, went from 56% approval rating before the storm hit to a record breaking 74% in february and now hover safely at 69%. now, the uncynical interpretation of this is that christie is the governor of new jersey , a state that was ravaged by sandy and desperately needed help from the federal government . and there's probably a lot too that. the cynical interpretation is that christie is the governor of new jersey , a state that obama won by 17 points and being a partisan identified republican, when the party's brand is in the toilet, it does not bode well for a guy with an election this year, unlike anyone else in the country. christie 's now so powerful going into reelection that in our staff meeting this morning, among people who follow politics for a living, it took us an embarrassingly long time to remember the likely democratic opponent who, by the way for the record, is state senator barbara buono . sandy is the rock upon which chris christie has built his reputation of late. so likely so he's going to cruise to victory in november, barring, of course, changes in the political outlook. we all know he has national aspirations. so now that he's cleared the hurdle of state reelection or at least home state by pivoting towards obama , we are now watching him pivot back. and guess what, he is doing it on the same thing he built his last pivot on, which is sandy . here's chris christie answering nbc's matt lauer 's question about the role of climate change in sandy .

    >> i haven't shown any definitive proof yet that's what caused it. and listen, this is distraction. i've got a place to rebuild here and people want to talk to me about esoteric theorys.

    >> the thing to understand about sandy , is proof is beside the point. climate change will produce more severe weather and sandy is an indicator of the climate future, actually the climate present we face. if you view it unrelated to a larger climate pattern then you're going to be in very, very bad shape. chris christie 's attitude guarantees that. since taking office, he has de-funded the office of climate change and energy, taken $210 million out of the state 's clean energy fund to balance the budget. withdrawn the state from the northeast cap and trade plan and perhaps most relevant, so woefully underprepared his state transportation agency for the effects of climate change that the state sustained over $120 million of damages to their system after sandy . this is a really incredible bit of reporting. according to a report from the record, new york's metropolitan and transit agency had 11 damaged rail cars total compared to 240 pieces of new jersey damaged equipment. costing $28 million to fix. and the reason for the disparity is because new jersey didn't properly anticipate the severity of the storm. when wmic and the record filed public record requests to both states here's what they found. the mta plan is detailed in five binders, each 3 inches thick. new jersey 's plan was 3 1/2 pages with everything blacked out. but, alas, chris christie is too busy preparing to serve up red meat to bother with that. with his approval rating high, his challenge right now is not governing, but beginning to remember how to tell the republican base everything they want to hear. and it's looking like climate denialism is going to be central to that strategy. joining me from new orleans, james perry , a consultant on hurricane relief efforts after katrina and sandy and the director of the greater new orleans fair housing action center. i find chris christiology -- it's like a guilty pleasure for me. i find it -- like i hate how much press christie gets, but i do find him fascinating.

    >> yes, i'm fascinated by him because i grew up in new jersey . and i actually went to that beach that obama and chris christie were at today, point pleasant beach. it's a beautiful beach and i'm glad it's getting a lot of attention. i have to give chris christie a few points here. he had real empathy for his constituents, he actually fought his own party to get hurricane sandy relief when they were holding it hostage. and so far, appears he's administered that relief without turning it into some gross spectacle of crony capitalism. but that sort of minimum bar, that minimum bar of believing in disaster relief and administering it somewhat competently is not going to cut it in the 21st century . we need massive amounts of disaster mitigation and adaption.

    >> and the only way to get that is on this central issue. james , you're someone who has dealt with -- looked how disaster recovery happens. is there a story about how recoveries happen in new jersey that we're not getting as much. we all see the shore and the ribbon cutting . and i wonder if there's a story about the recovery in new jersey , specifically, that is not getting told in the same way.

    >> i'd say, richard, be patient and you may see some of those typical politics happen here. what's happening that is most troubling is there's been this clear passion for a conservative approach. and so you look at him taking $200 million away from the energy trust fund, he's tried to take $164 million from affordable housing trust fund . and what's quietly happened, he tried to spend the money for sandy that wouldn't help low-income and urban communities.

    >> what does that mean, though?

    >> sure. well, here's what's clear. when you look at the original plan that the governor submitted to recover from hurricane sandy , it had very little money for people who were in urban communities or low-income communities. it was only after the obama administration quietly pushed him to add $75 million for low-income communities that he agreed to do so. so original approach here was going to be one that left out low-income people, poor people .

    >> that's interesting you say that because what that says to me. the interesting thing about the obama / chris christie political partnership, if you can call it that, it's of course mutually beneficial, right. obama won the state by 17 points, chris christie gets to show he's not your standard republican. president obama gets to be seen doing the thing he said he was going to be able to do, work with republicans, republicans have unilaterally made it impossible for him to do that by and large. but what james just said is fascinating. makes me think there's political benefits to this relationship. and my question was, is barack obama complicit in something we shouldn't be psyched about in the fact he's going to do this big high-profile event where there is going to be a political opponent who's going to run against him for governor.

    >> barack obama is getting a lot of bromance too. chris christie is, i think, benefitting a whole lot more. my question is, i don't know how much that bromance is going to work for chris christie down the line if he has national ambitions to actually win a republican primary for president. that's where the climate denialism is exactly where he has to go.

    >> and this is the big question. james , do you think that political relationship is actually bearing tangible fruit?

    >> absolutely, there's no doubt about it. when chris christie ran in 2009 , he argued heavily about corzine increasing property taxes. under christie , they've risen by 18%. that's a huge rise. at the moment you start to pay attention to the lack of progress under the christie administration, he's in trouble. you have to focus on sandy , sandy , sandy and obama , obama , obama . that's the way he wins.

    >> on the issue of climate, right? here's he being relatively clear about what he thinks about climate. this is him in august of 2011 . take a listen.

    >> in the past, i've always said that climate change is real and it's impacting our state . decade average temperatures have been rising and temperature changes are affecting weather patterns in our climate.

    >> chris christie 's problem is the newt gingrich problem. he's now on record, right? he's starting to run away from it. his new line is to thread the needle and not look like a doofus and a liar. well, it's esoteric, this is the thing for egg-headed people to do. and i'm too busy getting this state back together to kind of interfere in this scientific relationship. but the climate change question relates to the broader question, which is like the pictures of him and barack obama , him on record on climate change , all that stuff is still there in the primary. it's like how dumb do you think republican primary voters are or do you think you actually -- that the base won't be as strong as it is?

    >> i think chris christie thinks they're pretty dumb. that's a cynical statement he made. and he went a little further in recent days. he actually said there's no proof that climate change caused hurricane sandy . and that's just total red meat for the base and i find it so disingenuous, because the claim is not that climate change caused hurricane sandy or hurricanes, the claim is that climate change makes it worse. they're set to rise 5 feet in the next 100 years. and it takes someone who believes in climate change to do something about that.

    >> and also, james , quickly here, the other point, you've got to be thinking about this stuff when rebuilding. the thing i keep thinking is, look how much money this costs. everybody loves the jersey shore , we love the beautiful beaches, the boardwalk. but we just rebuilt the boardwalk in the same place. it's the same ocean, it's the same climate. in fact, it's only going to get worse. seems to me, we need to be thinking about this actively in what we rebuild if we're going to have any shot of not just repeating these images.

    >> if governor christie is serious about leadership, what he would do is reinstate the energy fund. he'd be able to then show real leadership and show how he rebuilds his community in a way that ensures they are prepared for future disasters recognizing that climate change will impact the community. and i think that's a real path to ensuring resiliency in new jersey but also showing he's ready for the presidency.

    >> the housing trust fund point you made. we should know that a federal judge has struck down his attempt to use that housing trust fund money for the second time.

    >> the state supreme court as christie was walking around the shore trying to get more money from the government. he was actually refusing to spend trust fund money. thank goodness the state supreme court stepped in.

    >> good to have you both. thank you.

    >> thank you.

    >>> a big aggressive move for the president against the chronic obstruction of republicans in congress. he's daring them to filibuster. it's coming up. [ agent

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