Christie on immigration: 'Let's wait to see what the president says'

Story highlights

Chris Christie was in Florida at annual meeting of the Republican Governors Association

Christie was cautious in talking about Obama's immigration plan

Christie is a potential 2016 presidential contender

Boca Raton, Florida CNN  — 

Chris Christie – a self-styled truth teller with a penchant for political combat – was notably cautious Wednesday when pressed on President Barack Obama’s plan to issue immigration executive orders.

At the annual meeting of the Republican Governors Association here, the New Jersey governor and potential 2016 presidential contender repeatedly avoided weighing on the Obama plan that could defer deportation for almost four million undocumented immigrants.

Christie, the RGA’s chairman, addressed reporters at the conference and basked in the glow his successful 2014 election cycle, proudly flanked by new governors-elect from the blue states of Illinois and Maryland.

But even as other Republican governors with White House ambitions sharply attacked the President’s decision, Christie hedged on the hot-button issue when reporters broached the subject.

“Let’s wait to see what the president says tomorrow night before we have any kind of reaction to that,” Christie said when asked about the immigration announcement.

READ: Immigration announcement Thursday

He did express confidence that the new Republican leadership in Congress will avoid a government shutdown over the matter despite threats from hard-line conservatives.

“All this kind of hysteria about shutdown to me is just people wanting to make news,” Christie said. “I have confidence in the Speaker, I have confidence in Leader McConnell that they’ll do this the right way and run the government.”

Later, asked if he would repeal Obama’s executive actions on immigration if he were elected president, he punted again, saying that questions about a hypothetical candidacy were irrelevant.

“I am not going to articulate the basis of a yet unknown candidacy,” he said.

Christie instead turned the focus back to New Jersey where, he said, “we’ve been dealing with this stuff already, because of the president’s unwillingness to deal with this issue.”

He pointed to a version of the DREAM Act he signed last year granting tuition breaks to children of undocumented workers — a bill that rankled some conservative activists in early primary states like Iowa and New Hampshire — and flagged his opposition to driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants.

Other governors at the meeting, including several eyeing their own White House bids, were more willing to condemn the president, often in blunt terms.

READ: Five questions about immigration

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, said the president should sit down with congressional leaders and work on a piece meal approach to immigration reform. “I think it would be a profound mistake for the president to overturn America’s immigration laws with a stroke of a pen,” he said.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich called unilateral action a “mistake.” Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal called the move “illegal” and said the president is breaching Constitutional separation of powers.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry also called the executive order unconstitutional. Obama is also putting his own party in jeopardy, he said.

“I think he jeopardizes long term the Democrats ability to ever get back into power in Washington, D.C.,” Perry said.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said Congress could file suit and lake legal action against the president. There would be a “compelling” case to made against the president in the court system, he said.

Though his potential rivals might have been drawing a policy contrast with Christie ahead of next year’s primary, they and other Republicans gushed over his political work atop the RGA.

Christie raised over $100 million to elect GOP governors in 2014 and even went into debt to help pull long-shot Republican candidate Larry Hogan over the finish line in deep-blue Maryland.

“I want to thank Gov. Christie for believing in us, and the RGA for coming to the rescue,” Hogan told reporters.

Bruce Rauner, the governor-elect in Illinois, called Christie “a relentless campaigner.” “I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said.

And Pence said “the country owes a debt of gratitude” to Christie for helping install 31 governors in state houses across the country, the most for either party in 16 years.

“I speak on behalf of all the Republican governors, when I say thank you to Gov. Christie for his extraordinary leadership,” Pence said.​