After being buffeted for weeks over a controversy over lane closures on the George Washington Bridge and questions of political retribution, Gov. Chris Christie attempted to change the subject — to that of immigrants and education.
Today he announced he will support the “Dream Act” which will allow undocumented immigrants who graduated high school in New Jersey to be eligible for in-state tuition rates. Today’s decision is a compromise between Christie and the Democratic-controlled state legislature.
The two sides have been feuding over the legislation, with Democrats alleging Christie supported “tuition equality” only before his landslide victory in November. He had stated his support in October at a Latino Leadership Alliance gala, but last month he said he would not support the current legislation.
Today’s compromise will remove state aid eligibility for undocumented immigrants, with Christie defending his decision not to include state financial aid eligibility in the legislation because it would make New Jersey a “magnet state for undocumented students.” At a press conference he said he expects the state senate and state assembly to pass the bill and he is owed an apology for those who said he only supported tuition equality because it could help him politically.
“This will once again be an example of New Jersey showing how you can come to a bipartisan agreement, not that we agree on everything, but that we find a way to bring people together and come to a position and benefit all the people of this state and shame on all the people, shame on all of you who accused me and others of playing politics with this issue, you were wrong,” Christie said.
He said this version of the bill is exactly what he promised when he first said he supported tuition equality during his campaign.
“This is what compromise looks like and I’ll be waiting for all the apology letters that come in from all the people, some in this room who said I was not serious about tuition equality, and somehow this was an election prank,” Christie said, adding if signed immediately the bill could help undocumented students as soon as this spring semester.
Christie was asked about the lanes closure controversy and said he has “no doubt” that when it comes to state Democrats they are playing politics with the growing controversy.
The controversy is over the mysterious closure of several lanes on the George Washington Bridge, the world’s busiest bridge, for nearly a week in September as schools were first opening, creating hours of standstill traffic that delayed commuters and parents. The bridge is jointly managed by New York and New Jersey.
Democrats allege Christie ordered the abrupt closure as political retribution after the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, N.J., didn’t endorse his re-election bid, which Christie has vigorously denied.
This week the Senate Commerce Committee, which is controlled by Democrats, announced its own investigation into the situation, but Christie Thursday wouldn’t say whether U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller’s inquiry was politically motivated saying, “I don’t really know him all that well so it would be hard to make a judgment.”
The scandal has already forced two top officials at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to resign.
Christie said little has changed in the week since he accepted the resignation of his top staff appointee to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Bill Baroni, the deputy executive director of the Port Authority.
“I know you guys are obsessed with this. I’m not,” Christie said. “I’m really not. It’s not that big of deal…just because the press runs around and writes about it both here and nationally, I know why that is and so do you, let’s not pretend that it’s because of the gravity of the issue. It’s because I am a national figure and anything like this will be written a lot about now.”
He also said as for the mayor of Fort Lee he couldn’t pick him out if he was in the same room with him.
Democrats responded to Christie’s comments with the Democratic National Committee putting out a statement saying he took questions “with his typical swagger and condescension.”
“It’s been over 100 days since the lanes were closed onto the busiest bridge in the world, and instead of answering basic questions about why the lanes were blocked, Chris Christie still thinks ’it’s not that big a deal.’ Because of the Christie administration’s actions, some commutes took 4 hours instead of 30 minutes; children were unable to get to the first day of school on time; and emergency responders were diverted,” DNC spokesman Michael Czin said in a statement.
During the press conference which was called to announce personnel changes he was also asked about the recent congressional budget compromise. Christie said he wishes “the deal had addressed more of the long term entitlement problem that we have in this country which I think is the real driver of our long term fiscal issues in this country.”
However, unlike other possible 2016 candidates who have criticized House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, Christie praised him and said “no deal is ever perfect.”
ABC News’ Abby Phillip contributed to this story.