New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie welcomed President Obama to the Garden State Monday afternoon ahead of the commander-in-chief’s speech to American troops. But the greeting comes under very different circumstances, far from the warm embrace the two famously shared back in 2012 – to the ire of Republicans -- in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
The Republican governor greeted the president at the McGuire Air Force Base and attended his speech at the Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, just 18 miles from Trenton, the state capital. The president was in town to mark the end of combat operations in Afghanistan. The visit comes as the governor has ramped up his criticism of Obama while he considers running for president in 2016.
Obama and Christie amicably shook hands and spoke briefly after the president walked off Air Force One. Also in attendance were Democratic U.S. Sens. Robert Menendez and Cory Booker.
Mike DuHaime, Christie’s political adviser, told msnbc that “recognizing the sacrifices of our men and women in the military always comes before politics, so Gov. Christie will be there to thank the tens of thousands of service members who call this New Jersey base home.”
Christie, of course, came under fire from his party’s right wing for his welcoming and praising of Obama’s leadership when the president toured Hurricane Sandy devastation shortly before the 2012 election. Last May, the bromance continued, with the two strolling down the revitalized New Jersey shoreline, sharing laughs, playing arcade games and meeting with businesses to highlight the area’s progress. At the time, Christie was running for re-election in his Democratic-leaning state.
Those days are seemingly in Christie’s rearview mirror – especially with 2016 on the horizon. Many on the far right – a bloc that holds the key to securing the GOP nomination – have hammered Christie for being too moderate on issues like gun control and gay marriage. To them, the governor represents the cautious establishment -- not the sort of true conservative whom grassroots supporters desire. And so Christie has seemed to amp up his anti-Obama stances and rhetoric.
In recent months, especially, the governor has criticized the president on a slew of issues, including the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, raising the minimum wage, immigration and the protests in Ferguson, Missouri.
During a trip earlier this month to Canada, Christie – in what was billed as a major energy speech -- trumpeted Keystone. Obama has expressed serious reservations about the project, citing environmental concerns and arguing it would not create many jobs. Christie didn’t mention the president by name but referred to him as “our leader” and insisted his reluctance toward to project, which would create an oil transport system from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, was “no way to treat a friend.”
In October, the governor declared he was “tired” of hearing about raising the minimum wage, which Obama and Democrats have been pushing for.
In November, Christie criticized Obama’s handling of immigration, arguing the president’s “government-run health care was more important than fixing our immigration system.” And after protests in Ferguson, Missouri following a grand jury decision not to indict a white police officer in the shooting death of unarmed teen Michael Brown, Christie said Obama was partially to blame for the existing national anxiety.
Christie also took aim at the president’s foreign policy at a September birthday fundraiser alongside failed 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Christie criticized the president for dismissing Romney’s 2012 argument that Russia was the United States' No. 1 geopolitical foe -- remarks some Republicans have pointed to since Russia’s invasion into Ukraine. “Let me tell you something, Mr. President,” declared Christie. “You were wrong. Mitt Romney was right ,and the world is suffering because of it.”
Monday’s trip to New Jersey is Obama’s first since last May. Obama was supposed to visit New Jersey for a fundraiser in October but cancelled the visit to meet with White House officials about the country’s response to Ebola.
During his opening remarks, Obama thanked American troops, in addition to lawmakers, including Christie, for joining him at the base. Obama noted the last time he was in New Jersey, he and Christie spent time on the shore, joking “Christie beat me at football toss, which really aggravated me and he bragged about it after, which is okay, but we'll get a rematch at some point."
Obama’s tone, however, quickly turned serious. “After more than a decade of war, our nation is marking an important milestone,” said the president. Obama thanked America’s military for keeping the country and the world safe. "We stand proud of you, we support you and we could never thank you enough," said Obama.