White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters today that “we reached out, I believe, to New Jersey and worked with the governor’s office to make this trip happen.” He danced around a question regarding what the president could get out of it politically.
Carney said New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s statement that he didn’t want the president to visit “was agreeing with our assessment, which is that it was not appropriate at this time.”
Obama and FEMA director Craig Fugate touched down in Atlantic City just after 1 p.m. this afternoon, where he was greeted by Christie. The trio boarded a helicopter to survey the damage from the air, and the White House pool reporter noted the word “Romney” had been drawn in the sand at the north end of Point Pleasant Beach.
The officials then visited a community center in Brigantine, N.J., which is being used as a shelter. “I want to just let you know that your governor is working overtime to make sure that as soon as possible everybody can get back to normal,” Obama told the residents assembled at tables.
“It’s really important to have the president of the United States acknoweldge all the suffering that’s going on here in New Jersey and I appreciate it very much,” Christie said.
On subsequent tour stops, Obama stopped to take photos with Christie and residents and handed out Air Force One M&Ms to kids.
“I’m pleased to report that he has sprung into action immediately to help get us those things while we were in the car riding together,” Christie said of his wish list for federal help — everything from clean water to getting kids back to school — in joint remarks with Obama.
“So I want to thank him for that. He has worked incredibly closely with me since before the storm hit,” the governor continued. “I think this is our sixth conversation since the weekend, and it’s been a great working relationship to make sure that we’re doing the jobs that people elected us to do. And I cannot thank the President enough for his personal concern and compassion for our state and for the people of our state. And I heard it on the phone conversations with him, and I was able to witness it today personally.”
To residents he met on the tour who didn’t heed orders “to get the hell out of here,” Christie said, “You are forgiven this time, but not for much longer.”
Obama lauded Christie as being at “the top of my list” of those to thank.
“I have to say that Governor Christie throughout this process has been responsive; he has been aggressive in making sure that the state got out in front of this incredible storm,” the president said. “And I think the people of New Jersey recognize that he has put his heart and soul into making sure that the people of New Jersey bounce back even stronger than before. So I just want to thank him for his extraordinary leadership and partnership.”
“The president is doing what he needs to do as president, and this is the case of the governor doing his job,” Romney senior adviser Russ Schriefer told reporters on a conference call. “That’s it.”
Christie praised the president for being quick in getting disaster aid moving forward, and Democrats moved quickly to seize on that generosity.
Immediately after the tour, N.J. Sens. Robert Menendez (D) and Frank Lautenberg (D) sent a letter to the administration asking that the federal share for disaster response be upped ASAP due to the storm’s devastating effect on the state.
“The extraordinary scope of this disaster warrants an immediate increase in the federal portion of the cost-share from the typical 75 percent to 90 to 100 percent,” they wrote to Obama.