A senior adviser to President Barack Obama said allegations that Governor Chris Christie knew about lane closures on the George Washington Bridge may be “a killer” to the New Jersey Republican’s presidential ambitions.
If the assertion is true, “I don’t think there’s any coming back,” John Podesta, counselor to Obama, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt” airing this weekend.
A lawyer for David Wildstein, a former Christie ally and ex-official at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, released a letter yesterday saying the governor knew of the lane closures that snarled traffic for four days as they were happening and that Wildstein has proof. He didn’t detail the evidence. The traffic jams may have been engineered to punish the mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey.
At a two-hour news conference Jan. 9, Christie said he “had no knowledge of this -- of the planning, the execution or anything about it, and that I first found out about it after it was over.” Christie, 51, and a possible contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, fired his deputy chief of staff and cast aside his campaign manager.
The allegation, if proven, is damaging “in part because of what he initially said, that long press conference he gave, the absolute denial, and throwing his people under the bus the way he did, how hurt he was by them,” Podesta said in his first television interview since joining the Obama White House.
The Christie administration, in an e-mailed statement yesterday, repeated the governor’s assertion that he first learned of the closures when they were reported by the media.
“Mr. Wildstein’s lawyer confirms what the governor has said all along: He had absolutely no prior knowledge of the lane closures before they happened, and whatever Mr. Wildstein’s motivations were for closing them to begin with,” the statement said. “The governor denies Mr. Wildstein’s lawyer’s other claims.”
Podesta, 65, who entered the Obama administration as the president focuses more on bypassing Congress to advance his agenda, also said the White House is considering an executive order forbidding employment discrimination against gays and lesbians by recipients of federal contracts. “We’re looking at it,” he said.
Podesta, White House chief of staff under former President Bill Clinton, said “there’s a good chance” that Congress this year will enact a major Obama priority, immigration legislation.
The White House adviser said an immigration plan that Republican House Speaker John Boehner outlined at a party retreat Jan. 30 is “a step forward.” Boehner urged his colleagues to back a law that would grant legal residency status to undocumented immigrants, though it falls short of an Obama-backed plan for a pathway to citizenship.
Former Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour, interviewed separately on the show, said he expects House Republicans this year will pass a measure that allows undocumented workers to gain legal residency.
He predicted rank-and-file Republican lawmakers would refuse to go along with legislation passed by the Senate that opens a way for some of those now in the country illegally to obtain citizenship.
“I think the House will pass what most immigrants want, and that is to be -- come out of the shadows, be able to work, to raise their families,” Barbour said.
Barbour, 66, a former Mississippi governor and founding partner of the Washington lobbying firm BGR Group, said he expected House Republicans this year would avoid repeating a standoff over the federal debt limit because it was too politically damaging last time and took a jab at Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz.
“We’ve already been to that movie,” Barbour said, adding that it contributed to the November Democratic sweep of statewide offices in Virginia shortly after the last debt-limit fight. “It has a bad outcome. It elected Terry McAuliffe governor.”
Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli might have won the Virginia governor’s race if he could have got back “that two-and-a-half weeks away when Ted Cruz’s team closed the government down,” Barbour said.
Cruz, who led a battle to cut off funding for Obamacare that contributed to a 16-day partial government shutdown in October and stand-off on the debt limit, has vowed to use a coming deadline to raise the nation’s debt limit as leverage to extract from the Democrats more spending cuts.
Barbour, who considered a bid for the presidency in 2012, also looked ahead to the party’s 2016 presidential primaries. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush remains a potential candidate, held back only by his family ties to the last two Republican presidents, he said.
“If Jeb Bush’s last name was Brown, he would be the favorite for the nomination,” Barbour said.