The unusual scene of political enemies Barack Obama and Chris Christie touring a devastated New Jersey has put the idea of bipartisanship back in the headlines. But not before some critics say the men have other motives.
Christie, Obama in Atlantic City (White House pool photo)
The joint inspection tour of Hurricane Sandy damage, just a week before the presidential election, dominated political news on Wednesday.
The leaders, called the “Odd Couple” in several social media posts, took an aerial tour on Marine One. The men went to a shelter in Brigantine, New Jersey, where they exchanged compliments.
“I want to let you know that your governor is working overtime,” Obama said. “The entire country has been watching what’s been happening.”
“It’s really important to have the president of the United States here,” Christie added.
Conspiracy theorists had various ideas about why Christie, who had been a vocal supporter of Mitt Romney and a major Obama critic, not only accepted Obama’s request for a visit, but went out of his way to praise the president and FEMA.
The situation got odder on Wednesday afternoon, when Romney spokesman Kevin Madden told reporters that Romney wouldn’t be commenting on Obama’s relief efforts, and that the press should refer to Governor Christie’s comments if they wanted details.
Madden was specifically asked if Romney agreed with Christie that Obama was doing a good job getting resources to areas devastated by Hurricane Sandy.
“Well, I refer to Governor Christie’s remarks. I believe the response is still going on, so I’m not in a position to qualify the response by the federal government. I believe it’s still ongoing,” Madden said.
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The outspoken Christie isn’t apologizing to anyone for his appearance with the president, and in various interviews Christie says the bipartisan effort is beyond politics.
“The president has been great,” Christie said on MSNBC on Tuesday. “The president has been all over this, and he deserves great credit.”
The governor was blunt at a press conference held as the devastation from Hurricane Sandy became apparent.
“I don’t give a damn about Election Day. It doesn’t matter a lick to me at the moment,” Christie said. “I’ve got bigger fish to fry.”
And when asked if he expected Romney to take a break from the campaign trail and visit New Jersey, Christie had this direct assessment to Fox News: “I have no idea, nor am I the least bit concerned or interested. I’ve got a job to do here in New Jersey that’s much bigger than presidential politics, and I could care less about any of that stuff.”
The idea of bipartisanship isn’t new. At the Constitutional Convention in 1787, there were deep divisions among the delegates, but they were able to compromise to produce a Constitution that has lasted for 225 years.
President Lyndon Johnson worked with this GOP opponents to pass the Voting Rights Act in 1965. Back in 1983, President Ronald Reagan and Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill worked across the aisle to reach a landmark Social Security deal.
In recent years, President George W. Bush quickly received support in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. His father, President George H.W. Bush, and his 1992 election opponent, President Bill Clinton, raised funds for tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, and Haiti rescue efforts.
GOP candidate Romney is currently using the idea of bipartisanship as a central theme as he tours swing states.
“Republicans and Democrats both love America. But we need to have leadership–leadership in Washington that will actually bring people together and get the job done,” Romney says in one political ad.
But Romney hasn’t commented yet on President Obama’s efforts after Hurricane Sandy. There isn’t a shortage of comments from right-wing pundits who don’t believe the Christie-Obama appearance is truly bipartisan.
“He’s fat and a fool. Don’t listen to Governor Christie. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He makes fun of me all the time,” Rush Limbaugh said about Christie a day before the appearance with Obama was announced.
Conservative writer and outspoken Christie fan Ann Coulter had her own theory. “I think he’s hoping to use Obama to plug a dike,” she said in an email to the Daily Caller website.
Other theories run the gamut from Christie’s alleged fallout with Romney, to his using an association with Obama to help in next year’s potential gubernatorial campaign against Cory Booker.
Those who have followed Christie’s career know he has shown a bipartisan streak in the past. He’s worked on projects with Booker, Newark’s mayor, and leaders in Democratic southern New Jersey.
And Christie was caught in a controversy in 2010, when he decided to go with his family on a vacation to Orlando right before New Jersey was hit with a blizzard that dropped 31 inches of snow on his state. Christie waited for his vacation to end before returning home, leaving the Democrats in charge of the state for several days.
Since that storm, Christie had had an active presence in major weather events in New Jersey.
Scott Bomboy is the editor-in-chief of the National Constitution Center.