The following is a transcript of an interview with former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is running for president, that aired on “Face the Nation” on July 23, 2023.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We turn now to the 2024 Republican presidential primary and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who joins us now from Bayhead, New Jersey this morning. Good morning to you. I want to—
FORMER NJ GOVERNOR CHRISTIE: –Good morning, Margaret.
MARGARET BRENNAN: — I want to get to a number of issues with you. One of which right up top are these culture wars. Vice President Kamala Harris, as you know, is taking aim at this Florida guideline in terms of new educational standards, a component of which says, and I’m quoting, “slaves developed skills, which in some instances could be applied for their personal benefit.” Governor DeSantis, who signed a law requiring changes in how race be taught in school, said this was all written by scholars. Here’s exactly what he said.
(SOUND ON TAPE)
GOVERNOR RON DESANTIS: I didn’t do it. And I wasn’t involved in it. But I think- I think what they’re doing is I think that they’re probably going to show- some of the folks that eventually parlayed, you know, being a blacksmith into doing things later- later in life.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I wonder what you think of this controversy and how it reflects on your party.
CHRISTIE: I think two things, Margaret. First of all, “I didn’t do it, and I’m not involved in it” are not the words of leadership. You know, look, Governor DeSantis started this fire with the bill that he signed. And now he doesn’t want to take responsibility for whatever is done in the aftermath of it. And from listening and watching his comments he’s obviously uncomfortable. This the second part of this is- this is why one of the reasons I’m running, Margaret, you know, we’re- we’re arguing about these issues, these smaller issues when we’ve got big issues in our country, like runaway inflation, that continues to hurt families, like an educational system, instead of worrying about this, let’s talk about the falling test scores throughout this country that are making us less competitive with with the rest of the world. You know, we have enormous issues to deal with in this country and around the world. And we’re spending time, and I don’t blame you for asking, but we’re spending time on this as the first question to a presidential candidate on a Sunday morning. You know, the fact is that Governor DeSantis starts these things for political advantage. He tries to take political advantage of them. And then he says, I don’t know, I didn’t do it. I wasn’t involved. I mean, that’s- that’s not leadership, Margaret.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I understand the point you’re making. But just to be very clear, when you said, focusing on smaller issues, the issue of race is incredibly divisive in this country, you’re not referring to that as one of the smaller issues.
CHRISTIE: No, I’m talking about governors micromanaging curriculum in schools. And the fact is that, you know, if this was such a big issue for Governor DeSantis, he had four years to do this. He only started to focus on this when he decided he wanted to run for president and try to get to the right of Donald Trump. And so, I think people see this as politically manipulative. And I’m talking about, Margaret, we’re dividing our country into smaller and smaller and smaller pieces. And politicians are pitting them against each other to create conflict. And that’s not going to make the country bigger, better, stronger, or freer. And- but if we improve our entire education system, so our kids’ test scores are not going down, but going up, and they can get great jobs and be more competitive with the rest of the world. That’s the kind of thing a president should be inspiring people to do.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Understood. On the issue, though, of parental rights, which has been a huge focus of so many Republican candidates. Back when you were governor of New Jersey, you signed bills to protect transgender residents. Why do you think you’re one of the few Republicans not embracing these culture wars, when pretty much everyone else in the field is embracing them?
CHRISTIE: Well- listen, Margaret, I have very clear views on this, that parents should be making these decisions inside their families with their children, the same way parents should be deciding in my view, and we’re going to be talking about this in the coming weeks, where their children should be going to school, and how they should be educated since our public education system in so many places are failing folks. So I want to be very clear about this. I’m obviously, as a parent, concerned and aware of these issues, but parents should be making these decisions. Parents should be the ones who work with their children to work through some of these difficult problems. And let’s remember something else on the transgender issue with minors, Margaret, you know, you’re talking about over the last three years, less than a thousand minors who have been involved in this in terms of transitioning in- in a country of 330 million people. That’s what I’m talking about in terms of small, it’s not that the issues don’t matter. It’s that they don’t matter to the great, vast number of people in this country who want to be helped.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Understood. I have to take a break, Governor, we’re going to come back with you in a minute and finish the conversation. Stay with us.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Welcome back to Face The Nation. And we return now to our conversation with former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who is, of course, a presidential candidate vying for the Republican nomination. Governor, I also want to tap into your expertise as a former prosecutor. There are so many legal issues in this campaign. And I want to ask you about one involving the president’s son, Hunter Biden, who’s going to appear in court this week to plead guilty to two misdemeanor tax charges and will enter into an agreement that could avert conviction on a gun related charge. The deal has infuriated many congressional Republicans who are holding their own hearings. And I wonder after this plea happens, if you would advise your party to move on?
CHRISTIE: No, I wouldn’t, Margaret, and here’s why. It’s- the conduct here by the US Attorney in Delaware, and by the Justice Department is- just can’t be justified. It doesn’t take five years- Margaret as you mentioned, I was the US Attorney in the fifth largest office in the country for seven years during the Bush administration. It does not take five years to investigate two misdemeanor tax counts and to dismiss a gun charge. And we need to know what they were investigating. And why these are the charges they concluded to. This is not just any person, this is the son of the president of the United States. And while justice needs to be equal, it needs to be equal. And it doesn’t appear to me that this is the way to do it. And I would say one thing on the gun charge. I mean, this is a case where Democrats yell and scream for more new gun laws in the country. Yet, you hear no Democrat yelling about the fact that Hunter Biden intentionally lied on his gun permit application, mishandled the gun after he received it with a false permit application and faces absolutely no penalty. Guess what? The guy who sponsored that law was his father, Senator Joe Biden. And that’s- that charge carries a 10 year sentence. Margaret. We need to explain- they need to explain to the public why that was done. So no, I don’t think it’s time to move on.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And you know that the US Attorney in Delaware was appointed by former President Trump. On- on issues–
CHRISTIE: Incompetent Margaret. It doesn’t matter whether it- Margaret. It doesn’t matter whether you’re appointed by a Republican or a Democrat. If your work appears to be incompetent, and inexplicable, you need to explain it so we can have confidence in our justice system. And I don’t care whether Mr. Weiss is a Republican or a Democrat, he owes the American people an explanation.
MARGARET BRENNAN: The former Vice President Mike Pence was on another network this morning and said while the former president’s actions on January 6, were reckless, he’s not going to serve criminal. Are you? And in- Why do you think other Republicans are moving away from this traditional sort of law and order identity that they typically embraced in the past?
CHRISTIE: Look, I think because they’re afraid of Donald Trump. And the fact is, I don’t know and I want to see any indictment that may come. And when I do Margaret, then I’m happy to come back on and give you a complete evaluation of what I think of the effectiveness of the charges if they come. But what I will tell you is I heard Tim Scott yesterday, say that like, well, it’s not really the President’s fault. Well, the President invited them there. He incited them by telling them the election had been stolen. And then he requested that they march up to the Capitol. And of course, like Donald Trump said that he would march with them and then immediately, march right back to the safety of the White House and watched what went on. Now, I want to see what evidence the special counsel has, before I make that decision. I think that’s the wise thing to do. But please, for folks- I’m disappointed in Tim. That he would be sitting out there saying it’s really not the President’s responsibility. The President invited them there. Yeah, the president lied to them and told him the election was stolen. The President asked them to march up to Capitol Hill, while the votes were to be counted. And the President sat there in the White House and did nothing while the attack went on.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Should that amount to insurrection or sedition charges which we don’t know to be the case at this point?
CHRISTIE: Well, Margaret, I- you know, I loved when I was U.S. Attorney used to say, “I love the job, because only I know what I know.” I want to see what all of the evidence is that the special counsel has put together to decide whether I would charge something like that or not. But here’s one thing you know for sure. I will not dodge the question, Margaret. When the indictment is out, I will give a flat-out extra about whether I would have charged it or what enough. And until that time, I think it’s irresponsible on either side to do that.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay. And lastly, the Republican National Committee is urging the former president to appear on the debate stage. I know you will be there. Do you think anything other than these legal issues could be discussed if Mr. Trump is on it?
CHRISTIE: Absolutely. We should- we should discuss, Margaret, why he said he was going to repeal and replace Obamacare and couldn’t get it done when he had a Republican Congress. We should discuss why he promised to build a wall across the entire border and completed 52 miles of new wall in four years. At that pace Margaret, he’d need 110 more years as president to finish the wall. Why he said he was going to balance the budget, he added $6 trillion to the national debt in four years. But people want to have these debates on stage. Go to ChrisChristie.com and donate to me. That means I’ll be on this stage for all of the debates, and I will hold Donald Trump personally responsible for failing us and what he promised us when I was on that stage with him in 2016.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Chris Christie, I think we’ll be seeing you back here even by yourself a few times. We’re inviting you as well, governor.