New Jersey Governor Chris Christie joined me to open the show today:
HH: Big day today on the program. Pleased to welcome back New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Governor Christie, welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show, great to have you.
CC: Happy to be back.
HH: You know, they have said for a long time that entitlements are the third rail of American politics. And in today’s speech, you didn’t just touch the third rail, you kind of grabbed it and held onto it like Electro, who was played by Jamie Foxx in the last Spiderman movie.
CC: (laughing) Well listen, you know it now takes up 71% of the federal budget. How can anyone have a serious national conversation about the future of our country and not discuss this issue? It’s irresponsible not to discuss it, and not to come out with it, a serious, specific plan about how to begin to deal with it.
HH: Now I agree with about 75-80% of your plan, but I want to ask you before we go into the details, you haven’t ruled out running for president, have you, because this is going to shock a lot of people.
CC: No, I have not.
HH: All right, let’s play the heart of this. This is the one where I sat back, I was flying back from D.C. today after being on Meet The Press on Sunday, and I read your speech. This is the killer quote, cut number one:
CC: So let’s ask ourselves an honest question. Do we really believe that the wealthiest Americans need to take from younger, hard-working Americans to receive what for most of them is a modest monthly Social Security check? And I say no, and I propose a modest means test that only affects those with non-Social Security income of over $80,000 dollars a year, and phases out Social Security payments entirely for those that have $200,000 dollars a year in retirement income.
HH: So Governor Christie, you’re saying no Social Security for people who have $200,000 dollars in other income coming in annually?
CC: Yes, sir.
HH: Well now, that is actually quite radical, isn’t it?
CC: Oh, I don’t think it’s radical. I think it’s common sense, Hugh. I mean, $200,000 dollars in retirement income, you know and I know how much money you have to have put aside to be able to throw off $200,000 dollars annually in income in retirement. And it just doesn’t seem to me, Social Security was meant to be a safety net to prevent the elderly from living in poverty. And the idea that someone who is making $200,000 dollars a year or more in retirement needs to get a monthly Social Security check, just don’t think makes sense. These programs were set up to try to prevent poverty. Someone making $200,000 dollars or more is not in danger of being in poverty.
HH: Now they’ll have about $4 million dollars in assets if they’re decently managing their money So that’s what it is. But it is, is it not, a straight out wealth tax? It’s a tax on people who accumulated wealth during their life, or inherited it, they might not have earned it, they might have inherited it, but it’s a straight out wealth tax, right?
CC: No, it’s not a wealth tax, Hugh. What it is, is a recognition of the fact that this program needs to provide first and foremost for those people who need retirement security the most. And the fact is that often times in our country’s history, folks who have done extraordinarily well and others who have done moderately well have been willing to step forward and to help folks who need it, whether it’s through private charities, whether it’s through good works that government’s been engaged in. The fact is that Social Security now spends $900 billion dollars a year, and is taking in significantly less in taxes than it’s paying out in benefits every year. You know, this can’t continue. And we can’t have 71% of our federal budget being spent on these types of programs. And I think, for instance, you know, I’m good friends with Mark Zuckerberg. Do we really think that Mark needs to be collecting Social Security? Does he need to collect that check?
HH: Well, you know, I don’t know, there’s actually an argument that while I wouldn’t mind taxing his wealth, if he’s contributed to the old Social Security model, that the government ought to be estopped from taking it from him, because mostly, it’s not going to be Zuckerberg’s. It’s going to be people who had a good run in their real estate lives, or they put aside $4 or $5 million bucks. I think, actually, Governor, it’s interesting, I just know economists always say incentives matter, and will you change behavior as a result of this? Will people manage their assets so that they can continue to get that income flow by divesting themselves of money early?
CC: You’re talking about a relatively small amount of money compared to, as you said, $4 to $5 million dollars in assets. You really think people are going to divest themselves of their assets in order to get their Social Security check? I don’t believe they will. And in fact, there are incentives in my program for people to continue to work. The elimination of the payroll tax for anyone who’s working after the age of 62, that’s part of the plan as well.
HH: There are four parts, in fact.
CC: It’s a significant step.
HH: There are four big things here – raise the retirement age to 69, and raise early retirement to 64, love that, raise the eligibility age for Medicare one month per year, so that by 2040, it’s 67, eliminating the payroll tax for seniors who stay in the workforce over 62, that is brilliant, and a per capita allocation program for Medicaid, which we’ll come back to. I actually think the only thing that stuns me is the equity issue for people who have paid in their whole life. It’s actually just taking money from them, and they don’t need it. I will agree with you. If you’ve got $4 to $5 million dollars in assets, you don’t need it. But they did take it to you, so it makes your effective tax rate all those years much higher than Ronald Reagan promised you.
CC: But you know, we also maintain the cap on the Social Security tax in terms of earnings. And you know if the Democrats get their way, Hugh, we’re going to have to fix Social Security. And the alternative to my plan is for the Democrats to take the cap off of Social Security taxes, and have a payroll tax for every nickel you make. This is a much more reasonable, smart and conservative plan than that kind of plan.
HH: Is it going to kick in immediately, because Paul Ryan’s always done the don’t worry if you’re over 55, Ollie, Ollie in free. Does Chris Christie say come on, forget about that, we’re going in all right now, we’re going to pass the law, it’s going to go to work?
CC: No, we’re not going to go in all right now, Hugh, because you know, it doesn’t make sense for people who have plans based on certain things to go forward. We have to have a reasonable phase in period the same way we have to have a reasonable phase in period for the elevation of the retirement age, which we account for in the plan as well.
HH: All right, now I want to ask you about a couple of other taxes, because I’m one of these Republicans who believe we need to, we’ve got to find some revenues. One of those is a severance tax. It’s a lot easier to find oil and natural gas than it used to be in the days of wildcatting, and no one actually made the oil and natural gas. They’ve got to go and get it. There’s some risks. But what about, your colleague, John Kasich, has put a severance tax on in Ohio. There’s one in Alaska. Doesn’t that make sense that all of America ought to benefit from the oil and gas that it owns?
CC: Well, Hugh, let me tell you this. I’m going to come forward in the next two months with four major policy addresses like the one I gave today. Today was the first one. And as you saw, it was very direct, very specific, very substantive. The next three topics are going to be on national security and national defense, and taxes and economic policy, and on a national energy policy, because we need to have a national energy policy to confront the issue you discussed, and lots of other issues regarding energy policies going forward. So stay tuned, and we’ll talk about that when we talk about the national energy policy.
HH: All right, when I come back, in a second here, I want to come back to national security. But the last time I talked to you on air, you were in hometown next of the woods, Trumbull County. You were in Lordstown, Ohio, and you were connecting with UAW workers.
CC: Yes, sir.
HH: I am curious if you think blue collar America, the old Reagan Democrats, will like the raising of the retirement age to 69 and the other entitlement changes.
CC: Yes, sir.
HH: Why? They always like to retire in Warren.
CC: Because, listen, here’s why. Here’s why, Hugh, because they understand that the program is unsustainable. The math does not work. And what’s worse for them is if it turns out, and let’s remember something, the reason the retirement age to 69 happens in the year 2040, I mean, so let’s be clear about how this moves and how much time people have to plan, and, by the way, how much longer life expectancy will be then. Remember, just a short few decades ago, men’s life expectancy was 62 years old. It’s now 79. Women’s expected age is 83 on average. So the fact is that as we get older, as we are allowed to have greater life expectancy, with a greater quality of life, those are all things to celebrate. But you cannot have a system that expected people to die in their 60s that now sustains us through our 80s.
HH: Agreed. I agree.
CC: So folks understand that. I absolutely believe folks understand that. And you know, politicians are afraid to do this, because they allow themselves to be mischaracterized and attacked on this. And that’s why somebody with my approach, I think, can talk about this, because I won’t allow people to mischaracterize what I’ve proposed.
HH: So you’ll go into Iowa and you’ll go into New Hampshire, and you’ll look at Republican primary voters, New Hampshire, it’s a crossover, but then you’ll go down to South Carolina, and you’ll look them in the eye and say if you’re 45 right now, the rule set’s going to change for you, but it’s good for your and trust me on this?
CC: Absolutely. It’s good for you, and by the way, it’s good for your children, because if you want us to be able to invest in the national security of this country, if you want us to be able to invest in research and development, if you want us to be able to invest in all these things, then you better believe we’re going to have to make changes on this, because it’s taking up 71% of the federal budget. And you know, remember something, when Kennedy was elected in 1960, 26% of the federal budget went to these program. Now, 55 years later, it’s at 71%. We cannot do that. We can’t invest in our country’s future while we are overspending on these programs when there are common sense fixes. I mean, Hugh, who really is going to object to raising the retirement age to 69 in 2040?
HH: No, I agree. It is like Electro grabbing the third rail and saying light it up, I’m going to get the conversation started. Let me ask you about a couple other things now, Governor Christie, while I have you.
HH: On domestic law, you were a United States prosecutor for a long time.
CC: Yes, sir.
HH: Right now, we’ve got the states of Colorado and Washington flaunting federal law by allowing people to sell dope legally. If you’re the president of the United States, are you going to enforce the federal drug laws in those states?
CC: Absolutely. I will crack down and not permit it.
HH: All right, next…
CC: Marijuana is a gateway drug. We have an enormous addiction problem in this country. And we need to send very clear leadership from the White House on down through the federal law enforcement. Marijuana is an illegal drug under federal law. And the states should not be permitted to sell it and profit from it.
HH: And I’ve been telling Republicans they can’t yell at the President about not enforcing the immigration laws and then advocate not enforcing the drug laws. It doesn’t make sense. If the law’s on the book, they’ve got to be enforced. I’ve also been asking people about the Putin primary. It’s the primary of one, meaning who would the Russian president least like to see as the president of the United States because he’ll be standing up to him?
HH: How do you think you could stand up against the Russian autocrat and his PRC counterparts?
CC: How do you think, Hugh?
CC: I mean, you know…
HH: I just ask the questions, Governor.
CC: Listen, most of the time, you know, you’ll see a lot of people in the media who criticize me for being too tough, and being too direct and too blunt. Let me put it this way. My view is this. There would be no misunderstandings between me and any foreign leaders if I decided to run for president and was elected. Our allies would know that I would stand firmly with them without reservation, and our adversaries would know that this United States under that leadership would stand firmly opposed to those things which we believe are contrary to American interests. And we haven’t had that for six years. We’ve had a president who has run an absolutely timid, ineffective foreign policy, not only him, but his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. And so the fact is that I don’t know who Vladimir Putin least wants to be president of the United States. I couldn’t guess that. But I would tell you this. There would be no misunderstandings between Mr. Putin and I if I were president.
HH: It was reported this week there have been close calls in the skies over the Baltic, and that about a month ago, a Russian kidnapped an Estonian border guard who is still cooling his heels in some Russian jail. Should we unequivocally confirm our commitment to the NATO allies to defend their sovereignty, Chris Christie?
CC: Well, of course, we should. We signed a treaty with them. And you know, right now, I’m telling you, if I were in the Baltic states, I’d be wondering whether their membership in NATO was a full membership or a junior membership. And the fact is that this president is pulling missile defense out of Eastern Europe, was wrong, sent the wrong signal, and we remember who hit that reset button and made, made those missile defenses not be in Eastern Europe. That was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton smiling and hitting the reset button with Russia. And what have we gotten in return? Russian adventurism once again in Eastern Europe. Now Hugh, I’m going to be really clear on this. We have spent too much national treasure in terms of our money and the lives of our people over the last 70 years to make sure that we had a free, united and secure Europe. And now we have this president, through his policies and his Secretary of State’s, Hillary Clinton, through the policies that she put forward, allows Vladimir Putin to believe that he can move in on Crimea, that he could move in on Ukraine, and that the rest of Eastern Europe is open for his consideration. We need to step up military exercises in the Baltic states, we need to provide aid, additional aid to Ukraine, and we need to make sure that we let our allies in Poland know that we will stand up for them as well and provide the type of support that that country needs in order to make sure that we have a free, united Europe that we have fought and died for over the last 70 years.
HH: Now Governor Christie, I’m trying to ask all the would-be presidential nominees the same set of questions. And there are two specific Defense items. They’re really the backbone of American national security. But some of the governors have said give me time to study up. And I believe that that’s fair. But let me see if you have an opinion on this. We’re supposed to have 11 carrier groups. We’ve got 10 right now. Heritage Foundation says we need 13. And we’ve got an Ohio-class submarine, we’ve got 18 of them. They are the backbone of our nuclear deterrent, and they age out, and you can’t extend their lives, because they’ve got nuclear core reactors. And there’s no money for them. How much money is a Chris Christie administration going to give to Defense? How many carrier groups? How many Ohio-class subs, that sort of stuff? Have you given any thought to the Navy, yet?
CC: I have. And you know, when you have the Navy going from what was 600 ships down to 260, you know that we have a problem, Hugh. You know when you look at the type of level of spending we need, I want some more time to look at it in depth as well, but I will tell you I’m very persuaded by what former Secretary Gates said in terms of the appropriate spending levels, and the bipartisan study that came out last summer, I think, gives us a good blueprint on where to go and what to do. And so I’m continuing to look into that. But I am guided very much by the numbers that former Secretary Gates put out, and by the direction that’s been given by that bipartisan panel that came out last summer.
HH: And a last Defense question, when you give your national security speech, will you get into the weeds on Defense spending, because to me, it’s always about the weeds in the Defense budget, because you can end up spending a lot of Defense dollars on green energy plans as opposed to Ohio-class submarines and Virginia-class submarines.
CC: Absolutely. You saw the level of specificity I went into today, Hugh. I don’t think you’ve seen anybody who’s trying to engage in a national conversation even go near entitlements at all, let alone talk about it with a level of specificity as I did today. Each one of these speeches I’m talking about giving over the next two months will have that level of specificity to its proposals. The American people need to hear from folks who at least want to be part of the national conversation specifically what they would do. And you know, broad generalities are nice, and we all like them, but that’s not the kind of decisions you make as an executive. You’ve got to make real decisions.
HH: Okay, a couple of last…last couple of political questions. I want to honor your time. Have you ever been to a Chipotle before, because Mrs. Clinton made news…
CC: (laughing) I saw that. Yes, I’ve been to a Chipotle with my kids, but not recently.
HH: Not recently. You ever travel in a van like that one? Have you seen the megavan, the Scooby Doo van?
CC: I have not seen the Scooby Doo van, yet. No, I have not seen the megavan. I have traveled in a van before. With my kids one summer back in 2010, to do a summer baseball trip, we traveled from Chicago all the way back to New York and hit six baseball stadiums in between with my two sons. So did some traveling in a van.
HH: Did you go to the Jake? Did you stop at Progressive Field in Cleveland?
CC: We sure did.
HH: All right, because that’s where the convention is, and it’s going to be a great convention in my hometown. We’re up there. Let me ask you then about Mrs. Clinton’s campaign. Can you beat her, Chris Christie?
CC: If I run, I will beat her.
HH: And which blue states do you take away that Mitt Romney could not get, and why do you win there?
CC: Let’s start in Pennsylvania where folks have seen me operate as governor of New Jersey over the course of the last five and a half years, and I think have a real comfort level with the type of leadership that I provide. So if I were to run, I think Pennsylvania’s a state that is very much in play. I think New Mexico is a state that’s very much in play. I think the state that I’m in today, New Hampshire, is a state that would be very much in play. And so you know, let’s start off with those three.
HH: All right, now what about industrial…
CC: And Colorado, by the way, a fourth, Colorado, would be very much in play.
HH: Okay, what about Michigan and Wisconsin, because I had an argument in D.C. last night about the key to the industrial Midwest is Michigan and Wisconsin for us. Can you get the old labor rustbelt states of Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin’s not really in that category, but it’s close, to come back to sort of main street Republicanism?
CC: Listen, I think we have to try to do that. And the fact is, when you look at what I’ve done in New Jersey, Hugh, a state that hasn’t elected a Republican to the United States Senate in 42 years, the longest streak of any state in America not to elect a Republican to the U.S. Senate, they hadn’t elected a Republican to anything statewide in 12 years before I was elected in ’09. I was reelected in that state less than a year and a half ago with 61% of the vote, 51% of the Hispanic vote, 22% of the African-American vote, and 56% of the female vote. Those are the type of numbers we’re going to have to run up across the country to be able to have the type of sweeping victory you want to have to maintain a Republican House and Senate, and have a Republican president. You don’t have to theorize that with me. You’ve seen I’ve done it in what is one of the bluest states in America after governing as a conservative for four years.
HH: All right, last question, and it’s a process question. The media has been playing patty cake with the former Secretary of State. How long will that go on before the media becomes a parody of itself in not asking her and requiring tough questions of the kind of issues we’ve been talking about?
CC: I think we can expect that to go on for the entire campaign.
HH: Wow. So just…
CC: I mean, I just don’t believe that most of the mainstream media really wants to ask Mrs. Clinton tough questions. And listen, as Republicans, let me tell you, Hugh, we don’t get anywhere complaining about it. We’re not whiners or moaners. At least I’m not. We understand that the mainstream media in this country is liberal, and they put forward liberal causes, and they support liberal candidates. And in light of that kind of atmosphere, we’ve elected Ronald Reagan. We’ve elected George Bush 41. We’ve elected George Bush 43. There is no reason we can’t do that when we have the best candidate. We can overcome that. And I’m not going to be cone of those people who is going to whine and moan and complain about the media. Believe me, you’ve seen it, Hugh. I’ve gotten beat up by the New York and Philadelphia media more than anybody else in this country over the last year and a quarter, ridiculous, outlandish stuff that they’ve alleged against me. But I’m not going to be somebody who’s going to whine and moan and complain about it. Do your job every day, and the people of New Jersey supported me for reelection, and if it decide to run for president, I think I’ll do okay.
HH: Well Governor, thanks for the time today. After you give these next three speeches, I hope you’ll come back and dissect them in detail again.
CC: You bet I will, Hugh. I’ve enjoyed it.
HH: Thank you, Governor.
CC: Thank you.
End of interview.