BELMAR, N.J. - In his first town-hall meeting since Sandy devastated the Jersey Shore, Gov. Christie called on Congress on Thursday to stop "bickering" and approve $60.4 billion in recovery aid for storm victims in New Jersey and elsewhere by the end of the year.
"Don't forget, people are suffering, people want to rebuild their homes," he said. Congress "can return to bickering as soon as they're done with the business that is the first priority to its citizens, protecting their lives and property."
He suggested careful consideration of another politically fraught issue: what to do to prevent mass shootings like the one in Newtown, Conn.
"We have to look at all the different aspects of what causes this," he told a boy who brought up the rampage that took the lives of 20 schoolchildren and six school staff. The gunman also killed his mother and himself. Christie said New Jersey already has the second-strictest gun laws, after New York.
The governor spoke in a Shore town that was hit hard in the storm. Belmar lost much of its mile-long boardwalk, 1,700 houses were flooded, and some families are still displaced.
Over a 90-minute session in a borough auditorium, the governor fielded a variety of questions from the audience, including one about the technicalities of interest rates for small-business loans and another about why second homes were not eligible for disaster assistance.
He was also asked what he would have done differently. He would have pushed Shore residents harder to leave before the storm, he said.
In some cases he asked questioners to leave contact information so someone could get back to them.
The disaster-aid bill, which President Obama proposed to Congress this month, is mired in debate, with congressional Republicans calling for a sharp reduction in the size of the assistance package.
Christie tiptoed the line between emphasizing the positive while reminding the roughly 500 people gathered that the recovery effort was still in its infancy.
"When you think about where we are now, I think we've made some good progress," he said. But rebuilding the Shore "is not going to be done in the next two to three months. You need to know that. It's going to be a while."
Seven weeks after Sandy struck, many Shore towns are still cleaning debris off their roads and beaches, and the rebuilding effort has barely begun.
When he took the floor, Christie was received by a largely enthusiastic crowd. People asked to shake his hand, get his autograph, and have pictures taken with him.
But some in the audience showed up upset.
Gaye Tashman, who owns a used-car lot in Asbury Park with her husband, said that after their lot was destroyed by flooding she tried to relocate but was rebuffed by local planning boards.
"You're the one who said to the president, 'Let's cut through the red tape,' " she told the governor. "Can't you talk to the towns?"
Christie was apologetic, saying the state would try to improve.
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