LONDONDERRY, N.H. (AP) — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Wednesday the emerging nuclear pact with Iran is a pathway to that nation’s achievement of nuclear weapons and to an even more dangerous Middle East. He also said he’d be open to putting U.S. soldiers “into the fight” against the Islamic State group if necessary.
Introducing himself to New Hampshire voters in a format he knows well — a town hall-style meeting — Christie said the world has no reason to trust Iran. He said it takes guts to enter a deal, but also to back away from one— which he urged President Barack Obama to do.
The comments came in response to one of nearly 20 questions the likely 2016 Republican presidential contender answered during a 90-minute town hall event, his first in the early voting state after many at home. Christie drew a capacity crowd at the Londonderry Lions Club and fielded questions on normalized relations with Cuba — which he opposes — his stance on vaccinations, immigration, the Islamic State group and more.
Christie has often declined to discuss national issues that don’t directly affect New Jersey, but said earlier Wednesday that he’d been studying up to be part of the national conversation.
Asked about how he’d handle the threat posed by Islamic State militants, Christie accused Obama of weak leadership and said the country needs to assure its allies that the U.S. will stand beside them.
“We have to be willing as Americans to say, if need be, we’ll also put soldiers into the fight,” he said. “We have to be willing to say that.” He did not specify in what ways he might support the deployment of U.S. forces on the ground.
Christie said the U.S. needs to spend more on defense “to make sure that our military is so strong that no one will want to go to war with us.”
On improving ties with Cuba, Christie said Obama “should be ashamed of himself” for taking the U.S. in that direction. Obama recently met Cuban President Raul Castro as part of each country’s cautious outreach to the other.
“If Cuba wants to normalize relations with the United States, start acting like a normal county,” Christie said. “Start acting like a civilized country.”
Christie has repeatedly called on Cuba to extradite Joanne Chesimard, a member of the Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army who was convicted in 1977 of killing a New Jersey state trooper, then fled to Cuba, where she has lived ever since.
“It is a national disgrace that this president would even consider normalizing relations while they are harboring a terrorist murderer who belongs in prison in New Jersey,” he said, calling the decision “insane.”
The governor, who has struggled to gain traction in the early stages of the 2016 primary campaign, appears to be ramping up his efforts.
In a policy-thick speech Tuesday, he proposed pushing back the age of eligibility for Social Security and Medicare for future retirees as part of a plan to cut deficits by $1 trillion over a decade, an approach he said would confront the nation’s “biggest challenges in an honest way.”
He told the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at St. Anselm College he would also reduce Social Security benefits in the future for retirees earning more than $80,000 a year and eliminate them for those with annual incomes of $200,000 or more. He said seniors who work after age 62 should be exempt from the payroll tax.
The proposal marked an attempt to establish Christie’s deficit-cutting credentials in a race that has three other Republicans as declared presidential candidates, with more to come. Christie says he will decide in May or June whether to launch a campaign for the nomination.