Five Republican governors joined together Thursday at the Aspen Institute in slamming the Obama administration for its handling of education, immigration and health care while also laying out their own solutions.
Among the group was New Jersey’s potential 2016 GOP presidential candidate Gov. Chris Christie, who said President Barack Obama’s response to the recent influx of illegal immigration in Texas is “an indication of his unwillingness to lead.” He noted Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson’s efforts to break up smuggling networks that are bringing droves of young illegal immigrants into the U.S., but he blamed the president for not going to the border himself.
“He wants us all to step up to the plate, right?” Christie asked a crowd of about 800 at Greenwald Pavilion. “The president’s not there.”
Christie — who appeared with Gov. Sam Brownback, of Kansas; Gov. Nikki Haley, of South Carolina; Gov. Rick Scott, of Florida; and Gov. Scott Walker, of Wisconsin — said that during a recent meeting, he learned how the Department of Health and Human Services is handling the situation.
According to Christie — and his takeaway from the meeting with Sec. Sylvia Mathews Burwell — about 90 percent of these children have a contact, and potential guardian, within the U.S. When these children are handed over to the guardian, documentation for the guardian is not verified, Christie said.
“One of the two main jobs of this guardian is to make sure that this child goes to their immigration hearing, yet you’re giving them potentially, and almost probably, to people who are not documented?” Christie asked. “So the undocumented people, who haven’t gone through the immigration system, are going to be the ones who go to the immigration office?”
Aspen Institute President and CEO Walter Isaacson, who moderated the discussion, did not ask Christie about the George Washington Bridge scandal or his relationship with New York GOP gubernatorial hopeful Rob Astorino, whom Christie is not supporting in his race for governor.
According to NJ.com, Astorino met briefly with Christie in Aspen on Thursday and confirmed that the New Jersey governor will not be lending his support, though other Republican governors have voiced theirs. According to the website, Christie said, “We don’t invest in lost causes,” adding that if the race becomes competitive, he’ll consider campaigning.
During Thursday’s talk, each of the five governors explained why Obama’s Affordable Care Act needs to be repealed. A young Aspen resident from the audience asked if it really needs to be repealed or if it should be reformed and turned into successful legislation.
“I agree Obamacare is a complete disaster,” the audience member said, “but when (President Franklin D. Roosevelt) instituted Social Security, it was a disaster until it started to grow.”
Scott responded that the goal should be affordable and accessible health care, adding that government health care “has never worked anywhere in the world.”
“Government health care says, ‘I’m going to do everything,’ they promptly run out of money, and then they say, ‘We’re going to keep doing everything. We’re just not going to pay people to do it,’” Scott said. “Look at the (Veterans Affairs) facilities.”
Near the beginning of the meeting, Walker broke down what he sees as one of the biggest differences between the GOP and Democrats, saying “the president and his allies” measure success by how many people are dependent on government, between unemployment compensation, food stamps and Medicaid. He said success in government should instead be measured by how many people are no longer dependent.
“Nobody grows up in America saying, ‘I want to be dependent on government.’ That’s not the American dream. At least it wasn’t when I grew up,” he said.
On education, Haley said it’s not rocket science and the U.S. needs to go back to basics. South Carolina, she said, has rolled back Common Core standards. Whether it’s health care, education or regulation, everything should be state-run, she said. She added that South Carolina is focused on science, technology, engineering and math because “we build planes; we build tires; we’re heavy manufacturing.”
“It’s what South Carolina kids need to get those South Carolina jobs,” she said.
Isaacson asked whether the U.S. needs some sort of standard so companies and parents can measure by state.
“If we did not have high standards in South Carolina, we would not be building Boeing airplanes,” Haley said, noting the presence of BMW, Bridgestone, Michelin and Continental in her state, as well. “At what point are the national, D.C. people best-suited to tell us what we need in South Carolina when we’re recruiting these jobs every day?”
Brownback agreed with Haley that education starts with the basics, particularly reading at early ages. He added that when kids are in their junior and senior years of high school, some are not engaged.
“Give them some technical-school options,” he said. “Give them some college options.”
Another area addressed Thursday was the criminal-justice system. Christie said there are too many people sitting in American prisons for petty, nonviolent drug offenses. In New Jersey, he said nonviolent, first-time offenders are sent to inpatient drug treatment rather than prison.
According to him, in New Jersey it costs $49,000 a year to house someone in state prison. Inpatient treatment costs $24,000 per person, he said.
“I’m pro-life,” Christie explained. “And if you’re pro-life, you have to be pro-life when they get out of the womb also, and that gets messy sometimes. ... You’ve got to be pro-life for the person who’s sitting at the bottom of the jail cell, drug addicted, feeling like their life is over.”