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Christie: Stop questioning the 'legitimacy of presidents' and 'move forward'

ATLANTIC CITY - Gov. Christie on Thursday called for a "truce" in questioning "the legitimacy of presidents," pushing for the country to unify around President-elect Donald Trump.

Gov. Christie speaking in Atlantic City, NJ. November 17, 2016.
Gov. Christie speaking in Atlantic City, NJ. November 17, 2016.Read moreRyan Halbe / For The Inquirer

ATLANTIC CITY - Gov. Christie on Thursday called for a "truce" in questioning "the legitimacy of presidents," pushing for the country to unify around President-elect Donald Trump.

Christie, a Republican and Trump supporter, said America began to lose "civility" in its politics in 2000 with the controversial election of Republican George W. Bush, who lost the popular vote but won the Electoral College over Democrat Al Gore after a protracted fight that was resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Then as now, he suggested, Democrats were upset by a Republican victory, this time over Hillary Clinton, who won the popular vote. For his part, Trump had complained for weeks that the election was "rigged" and that he would not agree in advance to accept the outcome. Also, for years he questioned whether President Obama was actually born in the United States and therefore eligible to lead the country.

"There are enough sins on both sides to fill a complaint ledger," Christie told a few hundred elected officials and others gathered for the annual state League of Municipalities conference in Atlantic City.

"But now it's time for us to move forward and try to make our country a better place for our children and for our grandchildren."

Christie, who endorsed Trump after he suspended his own presidential campaign in February, was ousted as chairman of the president-elect's transition team last week. Other longtime aides to the governor and individuals he hired to assist the transition also have been sidelined, leaving the political-media class in Washington and New Jersey guessing as to Christie's future.

He reiterated Thursday that he intended to serve out his second term as governor, which ends in January 2018. But he also held out the possibility that he might join the Trump administration.

"I've had a pretty good run," Christie said in his 45-minute speech.

Christie was not initially expected to appear here Thursday; he had spent most of the week in Florida for an annual meeting of the Republican Governors Association. "The governor was able to travel back to New Jersey earlier than expected" and therefore was able to speak in Atlantic City, spokesman Brian Murray said.

That effectively robbed Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, a possible Republican candidate for governor next year, of the chance to deliver her scheduled keynote speech. Guadagno told reporters that the governor's office reviewed the text of her speech Wednesday night, and she later learned she would not be speaking.

"I make hundreds of speeches a year. I've made this speech five times," Guadagno told reporters, referring to the League of Municipalities event. "And I fully intend to make the speech I wanted to make today sometime in the very near future, and you'll all know."

Guadagno said she would make a decision about her political future after the holidays.

Christie and Guadagno had clashed over his decision to increase the state's gas tax and over a ballot question that asked voters to designate all new motor fuels revenues for road, bridge, and transit projects.

Christie last month signed into law bipartisan legislation that raised the tax 23 cents, to 37.5 cents per gallon. The measure is expected to raise $1.2 billion annually. Under the law, the state will invest $16 billion, plus federal matching funds, in transportation infrastructure over the next eight years.

Christie signed the tax hike in exchange for tax cuts elsewhere, including a reduction in the sales and use levy and a phaseout of New Jersey's estate tax. Combined, the various tax cuts are projected to reduce revenue collections by $1.4 billion annually.

"It was time for real leaders to stop playing politics and make hard decisions," Christie said Thursday.

Voters last week approved a constitutional amendment to dedicate all gas-tax revenue to the Transportation Trust Fund. In her campaign to try to defeat the ballot measure, Guadagno argued that voting no would prevent the state from borrowing money needed to make transportation investments and might force a reconsideration of the tax deal.

The Wall Street ratings agency Standard & Poor's on Monday downgraded New Jersey's debt, based on its "expectation that state budget pressures will intensify in future years."

"Recent events have added incremental out-year budget pressure, in our opinion, to what is already a sizable structural budget imbalance driven primarily by pension underfunding," S&P said.

856-779-3846 @AndrewSeidman