Teachers enraged over New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s recent declaration during an interview that their unions deserve a “punch in the face” are demanding the Republican presidential candidate apologize.
Nearly 32,000 people have signed a petition spearheaded by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) asking the governor to say he’s sorry. They argue that Christie “seems to think that leadership means threatening violence and creating a culture of intimidation.”
In an interview with Christie over the weekend, CNN host Jake Tapper brought up the governor's previous remarks that he prefers to punch bullies in their face, rather than sidle up to them. Tapper asked Christie, who has struggled to stand out in a crowded 2016 GOP field, “At the national level, who deserves a punch in the face?”
Christie did not hesitate, saying “Oh, the national teachers' union, who has endorsed Hillary Clinton — 16, 17 months before the election.”
He was referring to AFT — the second largest teachers’ union in the country representing 1.6 million members, which announced in July that it was backing the Democratic front-runner's 2016 bid.
Christie, who earned a reputation as governor for battling with state teachers' unions, continued that “They’re not for education for our children. They’re for greater membership, greater benefits, greater pay for their members. And they are the single most destructive force in public education in America.”
Christie isn't the only GOP presidential candidate to spar with unions while serving as governor. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker rose to national prominence in 2011 when he waged — and won — a war against public employee unions in Wisconsin, and substantially restricted workers’ collective bargaining rights in the state. Now, with Walker also running for the nation's highest office, unions are hoping to exact revenge.
AFT President Randi Weingarten (a longtime Clinton supporter) released a statement after Christie's interview saying his remarks demonstrate “why he lacks the temperament and emotional skills to be president, or serve in any leadership capacity."
New Jersey Education Association President Wendell Steinhauer released a similar remarks, arguing Christie’s “instinct is always to threaten, bully and intimidate instead of build consensus and show true leadership.”
Christie campaign spokeswoman Samantha Smith referred to a Facebook post published on the governor’s page Thursday morning in response to AFT’s demand. Team Christie is hitting back, insisting it’s the teachers' union that should apologize for “putting Hillary Clinton ahead of our children.”
"Teachers’ unions often ignore their own members — the majority of heroic, tireless educators who just want to do the best for their students. Teachers deserve better from their union," the post read. "The national teachers' union has their priorities in the wrong place and is putting the comfort of adults ahead of the potential of our kids."
The governor narrowly made the top-10 cut for Thursday night’s first prime-time GOP presidential debate.