New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie kept a low profile during his weekend in Washington at the national governors' annual winter meeting, but he received an important endorsement of his chairmanship of the Republican Governors Association.
Asked whether Christie's controversies back home had become an unnecessary distraction for the RGA, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said he should remain in charge.
"Yes, I think he can be and has been an effective leader of RGA. I think he should remain. The reality is Chris, he has taken responsibility; he said he will cooperate with all of the investigations. I don't know what more we can ask him to do beyond that so, yes, he can be effective," Jindal said. He emphasized that the "RGA is more important than just any one governor. It's not about the chairman; it wasn't about the chairman when I was chairman last year. It's not about the chairman this year."
Jindal chaired the Republican Governors Association in 2013, and Christie succeeded him this year. Both are considered potential presidential contenders in 2016.
Jindal was joined at the RGA press conference by fellow Republican Govs. Nikki Haley of South Carolina, Bill Haslam of Tennessee, and Rick Perry of Texas. Haley and Haslam each said they would welcome a visit from Christie in their states as they seek reelection this year. Haley described Christie as "my friend," and said "I don't think we have any dates in the works yet, but I would expect it at some point."
"If Chris came down we would love to have him," said Haslam.
Jindal also deflected questions about his own presidential ambitions and emphasized that the focus at this point should be on House and Senate races and the 36 gubernatorial contests at hand in 2014. "My honest answer is, I don't know what I'm going to be doing in 2016," Jindal said.
The event served as an opportunity for Republicans to directly respond to comments made by President Obama at a Democratic Governors Association fundraiser on Thursday, when Obama said GOP governors are "pursuing the same top-down, failed economic policies that don't help Americans get ahead," and "they're paying for it by cutting investments in the middle class." The comments set the stage for various partisan undertones that permeated the entire weekend's activities.
After a bipartisan event at the White House on Monday, Jindal went on the attack against the Obama administration. He accused the president of promoting a "minimum-wage economy" and said the White House is "waving the white flag of surrender when it comes to growth and opportunity." He repeatedly referenced his National Review op-ed published earlier that day calling on the president to use executive actions to enact a range of reforms viewed favorably by Republicans.
Ultimately, Jindal said the morning meeting at the White House was "respectful."
"Nobody was ugly to each other," he said, but noted the talks were marked by "serious substantive disagreements" on policy issues, specifically on approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, implementation of the Affordable Care Act, education policy at the state level, and an increase in the federal minimum wage.
Haley, however, claimed the tone "completely changed" toward the end of the meeting when Obama brought up newly proposed cuts to the defense budget, which will affect the National Guard.
"It wasn't just a change in tone to Republican governors — you saw it to all governors," Haley said. "It chilled the room."