NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican who has praised President Barack Obama's handling of Superstorm Sandy, on Wednesday blasted U.S. House Speaker John Boehner for delaying a vote for federal storm relief.
In an emotional but measured State House news conference, Christie called the speaker's inaction "inexcusable," and said he can no longer believe information he's getting from congressional leaders who had assured him the bill would be brought to a vote.
He accused his party of paying too much attention to "palace intrigue" and said the delay in passing a $60 billion relief bill is hurting the people in his state. New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut suffered the most damage from Sandy.
"There's only one group to blame for the continued suffering of these innocent victims, the House majority and their speaker, John Boehner," Christie said, reading from prepared remarks rather than giving one of his trademark impromptu takedowns of a critic. "This is not a Republican or a Democratic issue. National disasters happen in red states and blue states, states with Democratic governors and Republican governors."
The day's message once again cast Christie as someone willing to go against big-wigs in his party.
As he has since the storm ripped up parts of New Jersey's shore and other areas on Oct. 29, Christie said his mission is to help the people of his state recover, not to serve his party.
But once again, he's in an unusual political position for someone on the national stage, though he was right in line with New Jersey officials of both parties who expressed anger Wednesday over the House inaction.
Christie, a high-profile Republican who flirted in 2011 with running against Obama, a Democrat, was a top campaign attraction for Republican candidates this year and a headliner at the National Republican Convention. He publicly praised Obama for his post-storm leadership, and literally embraced him.
It became the stuff of "Saturday Night Live" satire. Some conservatives said Christie's tightness with the president, even as he endorsed Republican Mitt Romney, could have tilted the election.
Now, he is in a public battle with Boehner, the highest-ranking Republican in Congress. Christie's news conference came hours after a phone conversation he said he had with Boehner; he would not say what they told one another.
At the news conference, he directed a comment to Boehner: "Do your job and come through for the people of this country."
Even before word came out Wednesday afternoon that Boehner was planning a vote on the aid by Jan. 15, Christie said assurances like those don't mean anything to him now.
"There is no reason for me at the moment to believe anything they tell me because they've been telling me stuff for weeks and they haven't delivered," said Christie.
Christie said the House was playing politics with the aid and that it's hurting people in the three East Coast states who are relying on aid decisions to be able to repair their homes, reopen businesses and make decisions about how to rebuild after the storm of two months ago.
Should he decide to seek the presidency in 2016, Christie's stance — putting loyalty to his oath of office over party orthodoxy — could pay dividends with a general electorate that generally disdains Washington and anyone considered an insider.
Julian E. Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University, said Christie's attack was emblematic of a division emerging in the Republican Party between the more conservative members who are calling for spending cuts wherever and whenever possible and "more pragmatic" members of the party who think that spending is needed in certain instances.
"This is an example of another moment of him separating himself from a section of the GOP that is not very well-liked right now," Zelizer said of Christie. "I don't think it's politics. I think it's general frustration."
But by taking on the Republican leadership and the tea party, Christie could be setting himself up for problems down the road if he tries to seek the nomination of a party that doesn't look kindly on those who break from its ranks.
Gigi Liaguno, who lives in the devastated Union Beach, was furious with how little attention — and aid — her blue-collar community has received.
"Do they not want a bill because they don't understand how bad it is here?" she asked. "Is it out of sight, out of mind?"
She also criticized Christie for not visiting her town, though he did mention it Wednesday as a place where a delay in aid would have real effects.
Mulvihill reported from Trenton. AP writer Philip Elliot in Washington contributed to this story.