New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) announced late Monday night that he had struck a budget deal with Democrats to end a three-day shutdown of the state government, following an outcry — and cable-news sensation — over his use of a closed public beach amid the impasse.
The agreement was expected to reopen most state parks and beaches for the July 4 holiday, which for decades has brought a rush of vacationers to the Jersey Shore.
“I’m saddened that it’s three days late, but I’ll sign the budget tonight,” Christie told reporters at a news conference in Trenton.
The crux of the agreement was a compromise over Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, the state’s largest insurer. Christie had been pushing for months to gain more control over the nonprofit, which has more than $2 billion in reserve. The deal would cap the group’s reserves and give lawmakers more say over its operation.
“We have finally capped the excess profits of Horizon,” he said.
Christie — in a dark suit and standing before the state flag — was unapologetic through his lengthy remarks about spending time in recent days at Island Beach State Park, a state beach that had been shuttered during the shutdown.
Christie was spotted there with his family by an aerial photographer from Newark’s Star-Ledger, the state’s largest newspaper. Those pictures quickly spread on social media Monday and were played heavily on cable news.
“Whenever I get done tonight, I’ll go back to the beach,” Christie said. “That’s where my family is and that’s where I’ll go back to.”
He added, “Let’s be really clear: that’s our residence. And we have a right to be there whenever we want to be there.”
Christie described his now famous sit-down among the dunes as “40 minutes” spent talking with his wife, Mary Pat, their children and their children’s guests, in between trips to Trenton for negotiations.
“I don’t apologize for it,” Christie said. “I don’t back away from it. I think my poll numbers show that I don’t care about political optics. . . . Shame on those people who wanted to make this as if we were taking advantage of something. I just don’t agree with.”
Christie is the nation’s most unpopular governor. A Quinnipiac University poll last month showed him with an approval rating of 15 percent.
Christie mocked the Star-Ledger for its coverage and for hiring a plane to take the photos from above.
“If they had flown the plane over that beach, and I was sitting next to a 25-year-old blonde in that beach chair next to me, that’s a story,” Christie said, leaning on the lectern and wagging his finger. “I wasn’t sitting next to a 25-year-old blonde. I was sitting next to my wife of 31 years, surrounded by children and some of their best friends. If that’s a scandal, I’m guilty of every day of my life.”
He later called the coverage of his episode “B.S., gotcha journalism” and “background music.”
Christie said his son, Andrew, apologized to him on Monday for causing him “heat” for inviting “all these people to be here.”
“I said, ‘You never have to apologize to me for that, ever,’ ” Christie said. “I’m the adult here, I’m guy who made the decisions, and I don’t have one regret. Not one. So they can have as much fun with me on cable news as they want. They’ve lauded me, they’ve criticized me, just as all you have.”
“This is who I am,” Christie throughout the news conference. “This is who I am.”
At other turns, Christie was visibly weary and tangled with a reporter who asked him about his role in arranging the deal, which enabled the $34.7 billion budget to be signed.
“David, what answer do you want, exactly?” Christie said dismissively. “I know that you’re cranky and tired because you’ve had to sit here all day.”
The reporter shot back that he wanted an answer that was “a little less smug and more direct.”
Christie, with an incredulous glance, swiped the reporter again for asking about the role of the governor.
“Of course my role was integral,” he said. “What would you like? Would you like a line by line on what I did today?”