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NBC's Lauer Presses Chris Christie: Isn't Obama Class Warfare Really About 'Unfairness'?

On Wednesday's NBC Today, co-host Matt Lauer pushed New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to agree that President Obama's effort to pit economic classes against one another is just a matter of fairness: "Talk to me about that word 'envy.' Because I asked Governor Romney about this last week as well....why is it envy as opposed to unfairness?"

As Lauer mentioned, he did ask Mitt Romney an almost identical question on the January 11 broadcast: "Do you suggest that anyone who questions the policies and practices of Wall Street and financial institutions, anyone who has questions about the distribution of wealth and power in this country is envious? Is it about jealousy or is it about fairness?"

On Wednesday, Christie defended use of the word "envy": "Well this is what the President is setting up. What he's trying to say is the American pie is finite. If you don't like the size of the piece you have, only government can take more pie away from somebody else and give you a little bit and government keeps the rest."

Lauer pressed: "So if people raise questions about Wall Street and financial institutions and their practices and the division of power and money in this country, you do not think it's about envy, you think it's about fairness?"

Later, talking to Christie about compromise in governing, Lauer seemed surprised by the suggestion Obama has not compromised: "You don't think President Obama has tried to compromise?" Christie replied: "Listen, I don't think the President has shown the type of leadership....that's the tough part of leadership. Giving speeches in the Oval Office is the easy part."

Here is a full transcript of the January 18 interview:


7:01AM ET TEASE:

ANN CURRY: Also, after being pressured by Republican rivals, Mitt Romney has now said that he pays a federal tax rate of about 15% but he stopped short of releasing his entire income tax return. Well, does New Jersey's Republican Governor Chris Christie, who's pushed for full disclosure in the past, agree with that decision? If Romney were to win the nomination and asked the Governor to be a running mate would he say yes? We'll talk about that and more with the Governor in just a bit.

7:12AM ET SEGMENT:

LAUER: New Jersey's Governor Chris Christie recently campaigned for Mitt Romney in Iowa and New Hampshire. He's with us this morning exclusively. Governor, it's nice to see you again, good morning.

CHRISTIE: Good to be back, Matt.

LAUER: You are a full disclosure guy. You like it when politicians get out there and reveal their financial situations and their tax returns. Is Mitt Romney missing the boat on this?

CHRISTIE: Well, I don't think he's going to. I think he will release his tax records.

LAUER: Why wait?

CHRISTIE: Well listen, I think the most relevant information is the most recent information. He's going to release when he files in April and I think, you know listen, that's going to be personally up to him. My practice has been all along, Matt, that I release my tax returns every year as soon as they're filed. And that would be my practice.

LAUER: But the appearance here is you wait until April, the nomination would be secured by that time and you don't have to worry about fallout in the primaries.

CHRISTIE: Well listen, I think he already started to speak about it yesterday, about the rate he pays. And what I would say to Governor Romney is, if you have tax returns to put out, you know, you should put them out, you put them out sooner rather than later because it's always better, in my view, to have complete disclosure, and especially when you're the frontrunner.

LAUER: For the last five years he's been running around the country talking about his trump card, which he says is his business resume, his ability to turn around companies, to handle the economy. As you now know, his opponents are using what he sees as his trump card and trying to make it his Achilles Heel, attacking his days at Bain Capital. Is it a fair line of attack?

CHRISTIE: No. They're completely missing the boat. At the end of the day, what Governor Romney did when he was the head of Bain Capital was help to create jobs and turn around businesses. And you know it's stunning to me that somebody like Newt Gingrich would come out with the kind of attacks that he did – somebody who says that he's in favor of American capitalism – would come out with those attacks that he's come out with.

LAUER: But to kind of separate Mitt Romney and say he's part of the 1%, he's a Wall Street guy, he's a financial tycoon, you think is misleading and unfair?

CHRISTIE: From the guy who had a half million dollar credit line at Tiffany's? Yeah, I kind of think that's a bit of a problem.

LAUER: Okay, let's go back to 2009, you ran for governor against then-Governor John Corzine. And you ran with a bunch of ads that labeled him as a Gordon Gekko-type guy during his days at Goldman Sachs. Aren't they taking a page out of your playbook?

CHRISTIE: Well, no, because what I said about John Corzine was how he spent his own money to buy political office, with his Wall Street money. I think that's a much different situation than the attack you're talking about now on Mitt Romney, which is essentially attacking the core of the way we try to build companies and turn around companies in a capitalist system. You know, if the other Republican candidates are so desperate at this point that they have no other message other than to attack somebody who created over 100,000 jobs in his career, then it tells you that their campaigns are pretty bankrupt.

LAUER: Let's go to your state of the union – state of the state address – excuse me. You borrowed a phrase from Mitt Romney in a speech he gave last week. You said, quote, "The politics of envy have overtaken the imperative of opportunity." Talk to me about that word "envy." Because I asked Governor Romney about this last week as well. Why did you choose that word?

CHRISTIE: Well, I chose that word because I think – I've been using another word for a long time, which is "the politics of division" – and yesterday I used "the politics of envy." The reason I did is because what we're setting up here in this country, Matt, is people don't want to feel badly about other people who are successful. They want that same success themselves. And we need to set up a system, like we're doing in New Jersey, by cutting taxes and setting up a system where people can be just as successful as people already are.

LAUER: Then why is it envy as opposed to unfairness?

CHRISTIE: Well this is what the President is setting up. What he's trying to say is the American pie is finite. If you don't like the size of the piece you have, only government can take more pie away from somebody else and give you a little bit and government keeps the rest.

LAUER: So if people raise questions about Wall Street and financial institutions and their practices and the division of power and money in this country, you do not think it's about envy, you think it's about fairness?

CHRISTIE: No listen, if they raise questions about practices under the law, which I spent a lot of time over the seven years I was U.S. attorney, enforcing and going after people in corporate America who are not acting within the law, that's absolutely fair. That's not what you're talking about with Mitt Romney. The attack on Mitt Romney is that somehow his concept of capitalism at Bain is somehow wrong and was destructive, when in fact, the facts show that he actually created jobs at Bain Capital.

LAUER: Also in your state of the state address in New Jersey yesterday, you said, "Together we have done something that Trenton hasn't seen in a very long time. We worked together. We achieved compromise." So talking about compromise and achieving – and achieving it are two different things. We are right now in a climate where Congress is as politically divided as it ever has been. And yet, Americans seem to want these people to get their act together. So what you accomplish in New Jersey, how can it be accomplished nationally?

CHRISTIE: Only through presidential leadership. I mean, in the end, what I've done as governor, Matt, is to bring the Democrats into the room and say, "We're not leaving here until we come to a solution. And there's a boulevard, Matt, between getting everything you want and compromising your principles. No one should ever compromise their principles. But everyone, especially in divided government, should recognize you're never going to get everything you want.

LAUER: You don't think President Obama has tried to compromise?

CHRISTIE: Listen, I don't think the President has shown the type of leadership. Let's face it, Simpson-Bowles, he put it on the shelf, never pushed for it. The stimulus plan, turned it over to Congress to do that. The super committee, never got involved with the super committee to make something happen. Listen, that's the tough part of leadership. Giving speeches in the Oval Office is the easy part. Getting in a room with John Boehner and Mitch McConnell and the other Democratic leaders of Congress and saying, "We're not leaving here until we come up with a solution." Because that's what the people are paying us for. That's the kind of leadership we need and the President hasn't done it.

LAUER: I hate to get back into this subject because you're a pretty good dancer and you danced pretty well over the presidential thing a few months back. On the issue of whether you would run as a vice presidential candidate to Mitt Romney, will you tell me right now it is out of the question, it will not happen?

CHRISTIE: No. No, I won't. And no matter how much you want me to. Stop, Matt. No listen, what I've said all along is I want to be governor of New Jersey. And if you're a betting guy, I would bet on me being governor of New Jersey after November 2012. But I think it's rude and wrong to say you wouldn't do something that you haven't been asked to do and I haven't been asked to do it.

LAUER: Have you had any discussions with Governor Romney about it?

CHRISTIE: Zero. Listen, my job with Mitt Romney is to go out there and try to help him as much as I can to be elected President of the United States. I don't want anything in return for that except a better country. And so I haven't had any discussions with him about it.

LAUER: And if you can be a part of achieving that better country as a running mate for Mitt Romney you would do it?

CHRISTIE: I think I could be a better part of doing it by being governor of New Jersey and leading one of the great states in this country to a rejuvenation of America. And that's what we're trying to do in New Jersey, cut income taxes, reform education, and bring people together. And what we've done in New Jersey more than anything else, Matt, is you've seen that divided government can work. Republicans and Democrats can work together if there's strong executive leadership.

LAUER: Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, it's always good to see you here.

CHRISTIE: Good to see you, Matt.

LAUER: Thanks very much. Appreciate it.

CHRISTIE: Thanks, Matt.


- Kyle Drennen is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. Click here to follow Kyle Drennen on Twitter.