Updated: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie took on a former White House doctor Wednesday who said he was at risk of dying in office because of his weight, calling her a "hack" and telling her to "shut up" unless she examines him.
Dr. Connie Mariano, who was President Clinton's doctor in the White House, went on CNN and said, "I'm worried about this man dying in office" after Christie confronted his own weight issue head-on at a press conference Tuesday.
"I find it fascinating that a doctor in Arizona who has never met me, never examined me, never reviewed my medical history or records, knows nothing about my family history, could make a diagnosis from 2400 miles away," the traditionally tough-talking governor said. "She must be a genius. She should probably be the surgeon general of the United States, I suspect, because she must be a genius."
Christie, who has not ruled out a 2016 presidential bid, also said his children watched the CNN segment, and his 12-year-old son asked him, "Dad, are you going to die?"
"This is just another hack who wants five minutes on TV," Christie said. "And it's completely irresponsible, completely irresponsible … and people who have a medical license, who have the privilege of having a medical license, should in my view conduct themselves more responsibly than that. If she wants to get on a plane and come here to New Jersey and asks me if she wants to examine me and review my medical history, I'll have a conversation with her about that. Until that time she should shut up."
This all began Monday night when Christie went on the "Late Show with David Letterman," facing the comedian who makes fun on his weight quite often. Christie joined in on the fat jokes, even chomping on a doughnut during the segment.
The next day at a press conference, he was asked about the seriousness of the issue and if he had a plan.
"If you talk to anybody in this room who has struggled with their weight what they will tell you is that every month, every year there's a plan, there's a plan. And so the idea that somehow I don't care about this, of course I care about it and I'm making the best effort I can. And sometimes I'm successful and other times I'm not, and sometimes periods of great success are followed by periods of great failure," Christie answered at a firehouse Tuesday in Union Beach, N.J.
Mariano did an interview with ABC News before Christie's comments and said she is actually a Republican who likes Christie and does want to see him in the White House. But she said she does see his weight as a problem, blocking him from getting there.
"It's something we worry about at the White House constantly," Mariano said before mentioning what he's at risk of at his weight. "He is at risk of a heart attack at that size, he could have sleep apnea, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes. And coming to the White House, which is a pressure cooker and there is more stress involved, long hours, lots of travel, which makes those things worse unless they were healthier."
Mariano, who now has a private practice treating executives in Scottsdale, said if Christie does want to run for president, the issues will "constantly haunt him during the presidency and the rest of his life."
"When you see somebody like that who may have a shortened life span because of their obesity," Mariano said. "We are all compassionate towards him … there is no magic pill."
Mariano said if she were his doctor she would work "closely with an eating disorder expert" who works with "emotional eaters who eat when they are happy, eat when they are stressed," as well as whoever feeds the governor, including staff, family and a trainer to make sure he has a "daily exercise regiment in the gym" and is doing "a lot of walking."
"I've always liked him," Mariano said. "I like that he's forthright, feisty, he connects with people … he's down to earth, humble, he's the American story we love … he makes fun of himself, but we don't want him to die young."
Mariano said Christie could be the "poster child for all the other people in this country that are obese."
"If he can do it, I can do it too," Mariano said, referring to Americans' reaction if Christie were to lose weight. "You could save a lot of lives that way."
Mariano responded to Christie's comments at his press conference, calling them unfortunate.
"It doesn't take a physician to look at him and observe he is overweight," Mariano said in a statement. "It is sad that he can not take my advice about his weight and risk factors for people who are overweight/obese for diabetes, heart disease, stroke constructively and instead, he chose to attack me personally."
This post has been updated.