New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Thursday said he has no plans to lay out his position on immigration reform until — and if — he decides to run for president.
Christie, who was in the middle of a three-day trade mission to Mexico, had conspicuously side-stepped the thorny issue on the first day of his trip, making no mention of legislation stalled in Congress or the flow of Central American children crossing into the United States illegally through Mexico.
On Day 2, however, the potential 2016 contender told reporters that he would only discuss the issue, which Republicans have described as crucial to the future of their party, “if and when I become a candidate for president of the United States.”
“If that happens, then I will articulate a full position on it and then you guys can pick it apart and praise it or damn it however you like,” he said before lunch at a taco restaurant.
“But until that time, that’s not my job and it’s not my role. And I understand everybody wants to start a campaign that I haven’t even decided I want to be in right now. I’m just not going to do it,” he said.
While its official purpose is to foster economic investments between New Jersey and Mexico, the trip was seen by many as an opportunity for Christie to burnish his foreign policy credentials ahead of a potential presidential run and to build his relationship with Latino voters. Christie did well with Latinos when he ran for re-election in New Jersey, but he has so far steered clear of articulating an immigration plan.
Christie said he told leaders in closed-door meetings that immigration was “a very difficult issue for both parties” and that “there has to be common ground that needs to be found on this issue.” But he said it was up to the president and Congress to find a solution.
Many were also watching the trip to see how Christie’s famously brash personal style translates to the diplomatic stage, where restraint is often required. At public events, he seemed to have left his usual bravado at home, packing instead a more humble tone. Again and again, he stressed that a key part of his mission is to listen and learn from those he meets.
Asked about the shift, Christie rejected the idea that he’d left his Jersey in Jersey, as one reporter suggested, but said that he routinely tailored his tone to his surroundings.
“In private I have a little more of it than I do in public. You know, you’re getting to know people, so you don’t want to go too overboard, right?” he said.
He also took issue with the one-note portrayal of his personality that tends to focus on the brash.
“I’ve always thought that my leadership style has been portrayed rather myopically. You know, I have more than one club in the bag and I’ve demonstrated that over time,” he said.
While people tend to focus on the “more flamboyant stuff,” he said “it doesn’t mean that’s the way I am nearly all of the time. And so when I’m down here and I’m in a context where a certain measure of behavior is necessary, then that’s the way I act. And when there’s other behavior that would be more effective, then I’ll go way. And I think that’s part of leadership. If all you can do is one thing, you’re not going to be very effective leading.”
The governor maintained a jam-packed schedule during the trip. He began his second day in Mexico with a breakfast with local CEOs and signed an agreement to establish greater collaboration between higher education institutions of New Jersey and Mexico. The agreement would increase joint research ventures, cross-border fellowships, student and teacher exchanges and conferences, among other efforts.
In the evening, Christie attended a reception with the Latino Coalition, where he stressed the respect he has for how government works in Mexico, pointing to an ambitious reform agenda and bipartisan cooperation.
“I think there’s a lot that the United States Congress and the president could learn from watching what’s happened here in Mexico,” he said.
He was scheduled to end the day with a tour of the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a Roman Catholic shrine where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared. It is one of the most revered religious sites in the Americas.
Christie, who has had little time for sightseeing, said it was important to him, as a Catholic, to fit in a visit.
“It would be some kind of sin if you’re a Catholic and you are this close to the basilica and you did not go,” he said in humor. “I can tell you this: I need no more time in purgatory than I’m going to get already. And missing a trip to the basilica would certainly add to my time there that I’ve already earned.”