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Nepal Two Weeks After the Earthquake; One-on-One Interview with Chris Christie. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired May 12, 2015 - 16:30   ET


[16:30:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: That's coming up.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. I'm live in New Hampshire, where we're covering the presidential race.

But let's go to our top world story today out of Nepal, where, right now, hundreds of families are sleeping outside of their homes, too afraid to go indoors after a powerful and deadly tremor which came just two weeks after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake devastated the area, killing at least 8,000 people.

Let's go live now to CNN's Will Ripley, who is in Kathmandu.

And, Will, you just experienced yet another aftershock from the quake.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jake, just a few minutes ago.

Buildings started shaking. We could hear dogs in the neighborhood howling, and people were running out of their homes. Really terrifying for these folks. This is at least the fourth aftershock since the major earthquake today that toppled this, what was a five- story building behind me.


A lot of these buildings were partially damaged in the initial quake on April 25, and then the quake earlier, the 7.3 quake today, caused them to go down, so, as you said, people sleeping outside. A lot of them just a couple of days ago decided to return to their homes. They finally felt safe.

And now they're back outside. We saw a golf course full with hundreds of people, hundreds of families. The mental terror that people are going through here, Jake, is really troubling, in addition to, of course, the fact that there are now more homes destroyed and more people in need of shelter, as the monsoon rains are fast approaching here.

TAPPER: All right, Will Ripley, thank you very much. Stay safe, my friend.

In our politics lead today, the reason that I'm here in Manchester, New Hampshire, by the banks of the beautiful Merrimack River, my exclusive interview with potential presidential candidate New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

He told me his campaign plans are simple. He plans to win. What did he have to say about Jeb Bush or Mike Huckabee or Hillary Clinton or Tom Brady? Well, we will find out next.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. We're live in Manchester, New Hampshire, the Granite State, live free or die.

Time now for the politics lead. So, let's jump in the Wayback Machine for a moment to September 2011. You might remember, the Republican Party desperately searching for a potential white knight, somebody who could defeat Barack Obama. And the odds-on Lancelot was a Jersey, straight-talking, Springsteen-singing, town hall barnstorming maestro, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

You might recall Chris Christie giving this big speech at the Reagan Library that month, promising a second American century. He had conservatives hungry for him to jump in the race.

But he didn't announce that night or that election. He said he was not ready then. Now, of course, when he says he is ready to be president, do Americans, do Republicans still want him, after his star seems to have perhaps dimmed a touch?

I asked him earlier today on the road here in New Hampshire, how does he intend to shine once again?


TAPPER: Thanks so much for doing this.


TAPPER: So, there are people out there, pundits, who have written your political obituary. But, obviously, if you run, you have a plan involving New Hampshire. What's the plan?

CHRISTIE: Well, we put out a plan today, a five-point plan today for 4 percent economic growth.

TAPPER: I meant a campaign plan...


CHRISTIE: Oh, you want a campaign plan.

The campaign plan is to win, if you run.


CHRISTIE: I mean, you know, Jake, my political obituary has been written a number of times before, so that's OK. It's something that I'm completely used to.


What happens, though, is that, each one of those people who write that obituary only have one vote. So, I'm not worried about that.


TAPPER: But there is -- there does seem something of a plan to come to New Hampshire, where people here, local newspaper writers, have written your candid style might go over well, and if you choose to run, wow the voters in this first-in-the-nation primary state.

CHRISTIE: Well, obviously, if I run, I'll spend a significant amount of time in New Hampshire. I've already spent a significant amount of time in Iowa. Been to Iowa five times already this year.

I'll spend time in South Carolina also. I don't think this style of mine, which gets talked about all the time, incessantly, is something that's restricted to one particular state or region of the country.

I think I'd do pretty well any place I went, because I think people want the truth. I think the American people are mature enough to hear the truth.

TAPPER: On the subject of your five-point economic plan for 4 percent growth, among the many proposals you had was to simplify the tax code.

Now, you said something interesting. You say you don't want to vilify the wealthy, but you also don't feel the need to protect them either. And yet this simplified tax code would reduce the tax rate for the top wage earners to 28 percent, and also the corporate tax would go down to 25 percent.

So, given that you are not seeking to protect the wealthy, you are also seeking to lower their taxes, how do you respond to the charge that you're just another Republican looking to lower taxes for the wealthy?

CHRISTIE: I'm seeking to lower everyone's taxes.

We'd go from six rates to three rates, and the bottom rate would be a single-digit rate. Also, lowering corporate taxes from 35 to 25 percent, which would just make us competitive with the rest of the world, is going to help to create jobs for the middle class in this country. As I said in the speech, the president has created part-time work for the American people.

And it's at a record now, how many people have to have multiple part- time jobs to make ends meet. That's the type of slow-growth economy he's had.

What we're talking about -- lowering rates for everybody, including businesses -- is going to help to create economic growth and create jobs, and do it also, by the way, in getting rid of deductions and other things that would have it be, at worst, revenue-neutral. TAPPER: One of the other topics you've talked about at great length here in New Hampshire is about reforming social safety net or entitlement programs.

Governor -- Governor Huckabee, Republican from Arkansas, said your proposal for Social Security isn't reform at all, but your stance constitutes lying to the American people and taking -- quote -- "money from its people under one presence and then took it away at the same time when they started wanting to actually get what they have paid for all these years."

Now, you had a comment in your speech about people who are not up front with people about entitlements should be booed out of the room. Were you talking about Governor Huckabee? What's your response to him?

CHRISTIE: He and anybody like him who proposes those type of things.

The lie has already happened. There's no trust fund. There's no lockbox. The lie has already happened. And these programs are careening towards bankruptcy. And so my view is that we should have the program be there for the people who need it the most. Social Security should prevent the elderly from growing old in poverty.

And if somebody's making more than $200,000 a year in retirement income, maybe they don't need the monthly Social Security check, because the alternative, by the way, is either bankruptcy or a massive tax increase on the American people today. And I'd like to know which one of those Governor Huckabee and folks like him are for.

TAPPER: You're talking about the economy today. What do you say to people who say, New Jersey has one of the highest rates of unemployment in the country, the bond rating has been downgraded nine times, your -- your big signature proposal for -- for pension reform looks like it's in some serious trouble with the state Supreme Court; maybe you're not the economic steward that you're casting yourself as?

CHRISTIE: Well, look at what New Jersey looked like when I inherited it.

In the decade before I became governor, New Jersey had zero private sector job growth, zero for an entire decade. In the five years that I've been governor, we now have over 180,000 new private sector jobs. Unemployment was 10 percent. It's now well below 6 percent. We have balanced the budget and done it in an honest way over the last five years. We've cut business taxes $2.35 billion.

We inherited a wrecked ship, and we've now made it seaworthy. And I believe, by the end of my term, we'll make it even better than that. But you think about what we inherited and what we fixed, and, by the way, Jake, with a Democratic legislature who has never seen a tax increase they don't like. I've vetoed five of them already. If they send me more this year, I'll veto more.

TAPPER: I want to ask you about another one of your possible competitors, Jeb Bush. He was asked the question about, knowing then what we know now about the war in Iraq, would he have made the same decision, Jeb Bush, that his brother made?

He answered a different question, basically knowing then what he knew then.

But let me ask you the question. Knowing then what we know now, no WMD in Iraq, et cetera, was that the right decision to go to war?

CHRISTIE: No, it wasn't.

Now, I think President Bush made the best decision he could at the time, given that his intelligence community was telling him that there was WMD and that there were threats right there in Iraq. But I don't think you can honestly say that, if we knew then that there was no WMD, that the country should have gone to war. So, my answer would be no.

But I think, you know, what we've got to avoid is continuing to go backwards in this country. We need a forward looking foreign policy that talks about how to reassert American authority influence around the world.

But I want to directly answer your question because that's what I do. If we knew then what we know now and I was the president of the United States, I wouldn't have gone to war. But we don't get to replay history.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: What lessons have the country learned, have you learned from that decision back in 2002, 2003?

CHRISTIE: Well, I'm going to talk more about this next week, Jake, but I will tell you that I think one of the real mistakes that's being made right now in this country is a defunding and a weakening of the intelligence community.

What we learned from the Iraq situation is there is almost nothing more valuable to a strong national defense than a strong empowered intelligence community. And I'm very concerned about those who want to weaken our intelligence community.

This president has done it already and there are those running for president now, who wants to weaken the intelligence community even more. I am not one of those people. That's one of the lessons we should have learned.

Sometimes real mistakes of national consequence can be made if we don't have correct intelligence. We need to make sure our intelligence is strong so we can prevent war, prevent conflict and prevent terrorist attacks.

TAPPER: What -- you've been critical of President Obama when it comes to the subject of ISIS and the terrorist threat. What would you be doing differently right now?

CHRISTIE: Well, first off, we need to strengthen our alliances around the world. Let's face it, Jake, our adversaries no longer fear us and allies don't feel like they can trust us any longer. I mean, that's an awful position for America to be in.

We have allies across the Middle East, who want to fight ISIS, but they can't count on the fact that America is going to be with them shoulder to shoulder with them, helping to supply them, helping to advise them.

And if necessary helping to fight with them, fight against this. This president drew a red line in Syria and then he backed away and allowed Vladimir Putin to fill that vacuum. He's allowed ISIS to fill the power vacuum in the Middle East.

He's obsessed with negotiations with Iran. This is not the type of leadership we need that's going to help to send the right message to the terrorist threat around the world.

And I have experience in this. I've been U.S. attorney for seven years and fighting terrorism in New Jersey. I understand how important intelligence is to this and sending clear messages.

TAPPER: We're going to take a quick break. When we come back we're going to ask him many other questions including one about his favorite sport, football. We'll be right back.



TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. We're sitting here in Manchester, New Hampshire talking with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie about his possible presidential campaign and other issues of the day.

Governor Christie, thanks again for joining us. So you were essentially cleared by the U.S. attorney on the whole bridge-gate thing, but I do want to ask you because there seemed to be some sense of acceptability of retaliation.

I understand that you don't think what happened to one mayor was OK, but there was a meeting canceled with another mayor who didn't endorse you. If I had producers who took an action against a rival show and then ended up hurting a bunch of people.

I would think, boy, I must have set some sort of tone that they thought was acceptable. These are people who wanted to please you. I understand you didn't know about it, but did this cause you at all to think maybe I did set a wrong tone at all?

CHRISTIE: No, I mean, obviously I spent time thinking about that, Jake, because it's an obvious question. But no, I really don't think so. I think unfortunately, there are going to be times when people work for you do things that are completely out of character.

I mean, you look at what our administration is about working across the aisle with the Democrats. I have a number of Democrats who endorsed us. If we were the kind of people who retaliate against folks, you don't have those kinds of relationships, those relationships exist today.

So listen, I'm accountable for what happened. I've said that before. I'm the governor. It happens on my watch. But you can't be responsible for the bad acts of some people who wind up in your employ. What you do as a leader is to take definitive steps. The next day I terminated the person that I thought was responsible and moved on.

TAPPER: Have you talked to her at all since then?

CHRISTIE: No, I have not.

TAPPER: What would you say to her if she was sitting here?

CHRISTIE: I don't have anything more to say. I would probably more listen than talk.

TAPPER: OK, let's turn to a lighter subject if that's OK with you. You're a big football fan.

CHRISTIE: Yes, I am.

CHRISTIE: Because of some problem you're actually a Cowboys fan. But you said last week that the report suggesting Tom Brady had some knowledge of the deflated footballs had a lot of probablies and maybes.

Yesterday, the NFL came out and said, they don't share that view and they suspended him four games and there is a fine saying he weakened public confidence, public trust in the game. Do you think the punishment is too harsh?

CHRISTIE: I do. I think it's an overreaction. You can't help but put this in the context of everything that's happened in the NFL over the last year, a year and a half or so. Where previous punishments that were given out for other transgressions mostly off the field have been seen as too weak and now we're seeing an overreaction.

This happens frequently, not just in football, but in everywhere. Things are seen as too weak. You go back as being too tough. I think on this one is just an overreaction.

I do think it has something to do with Tom Brady. I think it has to do with the fact that he's wealthy and handsome and famous and successful, and I think people like to take shots at people like that. So from my view, I think the punishment is too harsh.

[16:55:07] TAPPER: I want to ask you one other question about football. This one has to do with anybody who went to a Jets game in the last few years. They might have experienced a time when the Jets salute the National Guards and the troops.

It turns out, confirmed by the Pentagon, not just the Jets but other football organizations across the country have been paid for this. The National Guard has been paying for this, millions of dollars, more than 300,000 to the Jets alone. You know, I understand the idea of, you know, you pay for ads or whatever, but what seemed like a very moving moment to the Jets fans, do you think they should give that money back? Why should they be paid for it?

CHRISTIE: If the money was paid to the Jets just for saluting the troops, they should give it back because we should be saluting the troops because of what they do for our country.

If it was paid for some other advertisement or something else that I don't know about, then that's a decision for the government to make, whether they should be paying that kind of advertising. But if we're paying the New York Jets franchise for saluting the troops then that would be very disappointing.

TAPPER: I know when you went to Mexico you didn't want to talk about immigration reform. But you're entertaining the notion of running for president and there are significant questions about whether or not, for instance, there should be a path to citizenship.

In a general view -- I know you're not laying out your immigration proposal now. But in a general view, the 12 million or so undocumented immigrants in in country, should they have an ability to become citizens or would you think it's OK to have a second tier status, what Hillary Clinton called second class status.

CHRISTIE: Well, let's talk about Secretary Clinton for a second. The pandering that's going on by Secretary Clinton is really the kind of thing that disgusts people about American politics.

The fact is that all of a sudden she's had this epiphany that she wants to go to the left of President Obama. I didn't know there was room to the left of President Obama on an issue like this. But that's apparently where she's headed.

I'll give a thoughtful answer on immigration if I'm a candidate for president of the United States. But what she's doing right now is typical of the type of pandering that people do when they're trying to tell people what they want to hear to get their vote.

And if they get power they'll do differently. It's the same thing President Obama said, he was for this when he ran for president in 2008. He had complete control of Congress in 2009 and '10 and did nothing, absolutely nothing to fix the immigration problem in this country.

We need people to start telling the truth about this issue. Let's have an adult conversation about it, Jake, and let's not have politicians like Hillary Clinton running around the country and pandering.

TAPPER: I want to ask you about this new poll from NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" saying 50 percent of the Republican primary voters cannot see themselves ever supporting you for president. That's more than any other Republican surveyed. Now I know you've had highs and I know that you've had lows. How do you get up in the morning to campaign when you see a poll number like that?

Where you're in a position here in New Hampshire, let's just say you have room for upward growth. You're trailing Donald Trump. Does it make you feel discouraged or does it make you want to double down and work even harder?

CHRISTIE: If you determine what your commitment is to your country by what your poll number is on any particular morning, you have no business running for president of the United States.

And so I don't, you know, 50 percent of Republicans saying they don't think they could vote for me. Guess what, they could change their mind and the job of campaigns if we're to engage in one is to change minds.

And the job of leaders is not to follow polls. It's to change polls. That's what real leaders do. I don't worry about this stuff. It doesn't matter. I've had 75 percent job approval ratings in New Jersey and 35 percent job approval ratings and everything in between.

You know why, because I tell the truth, because I spend my political capital when I have it. People understand that I don't care whether the poll is up or down that day. It didn't affect what I believe in here.

If I decide to run for president, I'll run. And my job will be to convince people to vote for me. It's no different than any other campaign you run.

Believe me, when I started to run in New Jersey, I don't think most people thought it was going to beat John Corsine either so no one thought I was going to get over 60 percent of the vote when I ran for re-election. So we'll take our chances.

TAPPER: Governor Christie, thanks so much for joining us. Appreciate it. Always a pleasure.

Our thanks to the University of New Hampshire at Manchester for their hospitality as the nor'easter rolls in. Make sure to follow me on Twitter @jaketapper and also @theleadCNN.

That's it for THE LEAD live from Manchester, New Hampshire. I'm Jake Tapper. Turning you over now to one Mr. Wolf Blitzer who is safely ensconced in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, U.S. helicopter down, six Marines are missing after their aircraft disappears during a humanitarian mission. An urgent search is now underway --