Changing the subject
For the second time in the past week, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie today will deliver much-anticipated remarks in Trenton -- this time in his “State of the State” address at 3:00 pm ET. And the question is how much, if anything, he says about the George Washington Bridge scandal that has engulfed his administration. (Remember, Bill Clinton avoided any mention to the raging Lewinsky scandal when he gave his 1998 State of the Union address.) According to excerpts of Christie’s remarks, it appears the governor will try to change the subject by proposing to lengthen the school day and school year in the state. "It is time to lengthen both the school day and school year in New Jersey,” he’s expected to say. “If student achievement is lagging at the exact moment when we need improvement more than ever in order to compete in the world economy, should we not take these steps -- every possible step -- to boost student achievement?" Christie’s office also says that the governor will focus on property-tax relief, as well as crime prevention. And he will ask the legislature and state residents to put politics aside and focus on the people first. So the smart bet is on him omitting any direct reference to the scandal he faces (although he probably alludes to the politics of the moment). After all, if he says anything about it, that will be the headline, not anything else."
What was supposed to be a triumphant moment
Still, this was supposed to be a triumphant moment for the potential 2016 presidential candidate. After his 20-point re-election victory, after assuming the reins of the Republican Governors Association, and after all the ’16 speculation had already begun, Christie had two high-profile events scheduled this month -- his State of the State, and his Jan. 21 inauguration. But the bridge scandal now hangs over both. As for the investigation into the GWB lane closures, the level of Christie’s cooperation will be a big tell. If he and his administration are truly cooperative -- turning over every email, appearing before every investigative panel -- then it will appear they have nothing to hide, and it will be a reminder he really does want to rescue his national ambitions. But if they stonewall, then it may be that Christie and his folks have concluded they have bigger problems than 2016.
Two polls on Christie, two different stories
On Monday, two polls on Christie were released, and they told two stories. One, most Americans aren’t paying close attention to this bridge story -- at least not yet. According to a national Pew Research Center survey (conducted Jan. 9-12), only 18% say they’re closely following the story, versus 44% who closely followed the recent arctic blast, 28% who closely followed the latest on the U.S. economy, and 19% who closely followed the unemployment debate in Washington, DC. What’s more, 16% of national respondents say the story has given them a less favorable impression of Christie, compared with 6% who have a more favorable impression. A whopping 60% say their opinion hasn’t changed. Two, the story hasn’t hurt his approval rating in the state, but it has hurt some of his numbers below the surface. According to a Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press poll, 59% of New Jersey resident approve of the governor’s job -- down from 65% a month ago. That’s the good news. The bad news for Christie is that only 44% believe he has the right temperament to be president, which is down from 56% last September. In addition, 51% say that Christie hasn’t been completely honest regarding the scandal. Christie is in this uncomfortable position where a majority of his constituents believe he’s not being truthful, even as they approve of the job he’s doing as governor.
Breaking down the new health-care statistics
Speaking of numbers, the Obama administration released updated enrollment statistics for the new health-care law. The numbers: 2.2 million Americans had enrolled (in either federal or state exchanges) as of Dec. 28, and 24% of the enrollees are those 18-34, which is lower than the expected 40% from that age group. Remember, for the health-care law to work, you have to have a sizable pool of young, healthy people to pay for those who are older and sick. But these numbers are through December, not through the FINAL enrollment deadline of March 31. If the 18-to-34 percentage stays at 24%, the administration could have a problem. But the White House points to the experience from Massachusetts -- see this chart via the New Republic’s Jonathan Cohn -- when younger adults largely signed up in the final month or two. And the administration tells us that it will begin a major outreach effort to these young/younger adults in the coming weeks. To help prevent second-year premium sticker shock, the under-35 number has to get to the mid-30s as a percentage of insured. By the way, we still don’t have a breakdown of “healthy” vs “non-healthy” in the pool of currently insured.
Hop on the (omni)bus, Gus
Per NBC’s Frank Thorp, House and Senate negotiators came to an agreement on a $1.012 trillion government-funding bill last night -- it’s a massive 1,582 page piece of legislation that will fund the government through Sept. 30, 2014. Congress, Thorp says, must pass a bill to keep the government funded by midnight on Wednesday, or we will face another shutdown. Because it will likely take longer to finish this omnibus bill, Congress will pass a three-day “continuing resolution” to extend that deadline to Saturday at midnight. The Washington Post has a good look at the winners and losers in this spending legislation.
FL-13 primary day
Lastly, today is special GOP congressional primary in the race to succeed the late Rep. Bill Young (R-FL). The favorite is former Young aide David Jolly, who faces off against state Rep. Kathleen Peters. The winner takes on Democrat Alex Sink on March 11.