Feb. 27 (Bloomberg) -- The scandal surrounding whether New Jersey Governor Chris Christie knew about plans for traffic lane closures near the George Washington Bridge is “nonsense,” Senator Ted Cruz said today.
The Texas Republican defended Christie, a fellow 2016 Republican presidential aspirant, and accused the news media of exaggerating the issue.
“I think the whole ‘bridgegate’ thing is nonsense,” Cruz said at a Politico breakfast in Washington. “I think it is an example of the media piling on. Apparently the most important story in the country is there was some traffic in New Jersey.”
Christie, 51, yesterday said questions about possible political payback behind the shutdown of lanes near the George Washington Bridge were hysteria led by the news media.
“Let’s not be hysterical about this,” the governor told interviewer Eric Scott on “Ask the Governor,” a monthly radio call-in program on WKXW-FM in Ewing. “You folks are the only people, at the moment, who are asking me about this.”
Christie last month fired an aide, Bridget Anne Kelly, whose e-mail linked her to four days of lane closings in September near the George Washington Bridge that snarled traffic in a town where the mayor didn’t endorse him for re-election.
The governor has maintained that he knew nothing of the matter, which is being investigated by a federal prosecutor and lawmakers in Trenton.
Cruz, 43, said he was a fan of Christie, describing him as “brash” and lauding him for winning election twice in a Democratic-leaning state.
State legislative hearings in November and December focused on the reasons for the traffic jams in Fort Lee, on the New Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge. The issue is under review by the legislative Select Committee on Investigation and by U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, the top federal prosecutor in New Jersey.
Some other Republicans have defended Christie. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and U.S. Representative Paul Ryan, the party’s 2012 vice-presidential nominee, said earlier this month that Christie should remain president of the Republican Governors Association.
Cruz had less flattering words for his fellow Senate Republicans, including party leaders, who he accused of “not being straight up and telling the truth” about their positions on raising the debt ceiling.
The Texan drew criticism from his Republican Senate colleagues after he refused Feb. 12 to let legislation raising the U.S. debt ceiling pass with only Democratic votes.
As a result of the move, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and his top lieutenant, John Cornyn of Texas, had to cast votes to advance the debt limit increase and bring other Republicans along to prevent the measure from failing. McConnell and Cornyn voted against the measure on final passage.
“To be clear, it was Republican leadership that was looking to throw Republicans under the bus because Republican leadership was whipping the heck out of them -- vote to let Harry Reid do this,” Cruz said.
McConnell and Cornyn both face primary challengers aligned with the small-government Tea Party wing of Republicans. That faction helped sweep Cruz to an upset victory in his state’s primary in 2012.
Asked whether McConnell should keep his job as leader, Cruz said that was up to the entire Senate Republican membership to decide.
Cruz declined to say whether he would vote for Cornyn in his state’s seven-way Republican primary March 4.
“That’s between me and the ballot box,” he said. “It ain’t that hard for an incumbent senator to get re-elected, and if an incumbent needs my help to hold onto their seat, then there’s something really wrong that’s happened with the grassroots voters back home.”
Cruz didn’t rule out endorsing candidates in contested primaries involving incumbent Republican senators, itself a significant statement because he is a vice chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. He said he had made no “iron-clad promise” to stay out of such races.
The NRSC, Senate Republicans’ campaign arm, works to protect incumbent Republicans and hasn’t endorsed any candidate in contests without a sitting Republican on the ballot.
“I disagree with what the NRSC has done,” Cruz said. “When I took on the role, leadership told me that they had learned the lessons from 2010 to stay out of primaries.” He said the group has a “terrible record” of picking eventual winners.
Cruz also said President Barack Obama has “done an even worse job” as president than Jimmy Carter.
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