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Christie: Paul has made the U.S. 'weaker'

The governor went as far to argue that it’s Paul who “should be in front of hearings, in front of Congress if there’s another attack."

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie went after Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky on Monday morning, accusing his GOP presidential competitor of making America weaker by trying to curb the country’s surveillance programs.

“In town hall meetings, people are really worried about ISIS, they’re really worried about the threat of terrorism. And that’s why what Rand Paul has done to make this country weaker and more vulnerable is a terrible thing. And for him to raise money off of it, is disgraceful,” said Christie during an interview on msnbc’s “Morning Joe” — his first appearance on the network since the scandal known as “Bridgegate” erupted back in 2013.

The governor went as far to argue that it’s Paul who “should be in front of hearings, in front of Congress if there’s another attack, not the director of the FBI or the director of the CIA.” 

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Christie has been vocal in his support of re-authorizing the Patriot Act, saying it’s an important tool to combat terrorism. It’s an issue that has divided Republicans, and Christie’s criticism seems aimed at differentiating himself from the rest of the emerging GOP field.

Paul famously held an 11-hour filibuster-like speech in May to argue against the government’s surveillance of Americans’ phone records, insisting it tramples on civil liberties and allows the government to spy on innocent people. Afterward, he sent out emails to supporters asking for cash with subject lines like “Last night I put NSA spying on life support.”

On May 31, some provisions of the Patriot Act — including a program allowing the government to collect phone records of millions of Americans — expired after the Senate was unable to pass legislation to extend them. Most of those provisions were eventually restored through the USA Freedom Act in June. However, the law was changed to stop the NSA from continuing its mass phone data collection, with phone companies retaining the data. The NSA can get information about specific individuals if it is approved by a federal court. 

During the “Morning Joe” interview, Christie was also asked about his lackluster approval ratings in his home state: A recent Monmouth University poll showed that just 36% of Garden State voters believe the governor is doing a good job. It’s a very different political landscape in comparison to 2013, when Christie easily won re-election with support from Latinos and Democrats alike.

The governor shrugged off the numbers on Monday, attributing them to excessive coverage of “Bridgegate,” a scheme in which several of Christie’s aides and allies allegedly created traffic jams near the George Washington Bridge, seemingly for political retribution. (The governor has denied any prior knowledge of the plot.) 

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“How about nightly specials on this network for like five months calling me Atilla the Hun. How about, you know, relentless attacks from The New York Times and the media ..." Christie said, adding that he's a humbler, better person in the aftermath of the scandal. Christie also emphasized that three different investigations have verified what he's said all along — that he had no involvement or knowledge of the lane closures. The governor also attributed the decline in his approval ratings to New Jersey residents simply being upset he’s running for national office.

“People in your state say, ‘oh you’re leaving us. You don’t care about us as much and your numbers go down,” Christie said, before confidently insisting that “It’ll cycle back up. After I’m the nominee, it will cycle back up.”