CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Republican presidential hopeful Chris Christie says Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had put “politics ahead of his job” by declining to meet with President Joe Biden during the Democrat’s weekend visit to survey Hurricane Idalia’s damage in DeSantis’ state.
“Your job as governor is to be the tour guide for the president, is to make sure the president sees your people, sees the damage, sees the suffering, what’s going on and what needs to be done to rebuild it,” Christie said about his rival for the 2024 nomination in a Fox News interview Tuesday.
“You’re doing your job. And unfortunately, he put politics ahead of his job,” Christie said. “That was his choice.”
No one knows better than Christie how such a sticky political situation can create an enduring image. Photos of then New Jersey Gov. Christie giving a warm greeting to Democratic President Barack Obama during a visit after Superstorm Sandy in 2012 earned Christie scorn among national Republicans.
Obama placed his hand on Christie’s shoulder. Some Republicans labeled it a “hug” and suggested it contributed to GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s loss to Obama in that year’s general election. Christie said he was simply doing his job by meeting with the president.
Idalia made landfall last week along Florida’s Big Bend region as a Category 3 storm, causing widespread flooding and damage before moving north to drench Georgia and the Carolinas. Biden, who toured the state on Saturday, had initially said that he would meet with DeSantis during his trip, but the governor’s office said DeSantis had “no plans” to see Biden, suggesting that doing so could hinder disaster response related to Idalia.
Biden and DeSantis have met other times when the president toured Florida after Hurricane Ian hit the state last year, and after the Surfside condo collapse in Miami Beach in the summer of 2021. But DeSantis is now running for president and hoping to take on Biden in the 2024 general election.
DeSantis’ campaign did not comment about Christie’s critique.
Christie has defended his own response to the presidential visit during Sandy, saying that although he and Obama had fundamentally different views on governing, the two men did what needed to be done for a devastated region.
The “hug” moment, however, has trailed Christie ever since. It emerged last month during Republicans’ first 2024 debate, when Vivek Ramaswamy responded to a barb from Christie — who said the biotech entrepreneur’s opening line about being a skinny kid with a hard-to-pronounce name reminded him of Obama — by asking if the former governor wanted a “hug,” a reference to Obama’s post-Sandy visit.
Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP
Meg Kinnard, The Associated Press