The intra-party feud between New Jersey's Republican Governor Chris Christie (shown) and Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) took on a dietary flavor Tuesday when Christie responded to Paul's criticism of pork ingredients in aid to Hurricane Sandy victims by charging the Kentucky senator with an inordinate appetite for federally funded bacon for the Bluegrass State.
"This is the king of bacon talking about bacon," Paul told CNN's Wolf Blitzer regarding the ongoing verbal joust that may be a preview to a 2016 primary battle that could threaten party unity while alienating the nation's hog farmers. Christie and Paul are both likely candidates for the party's next presidential nomination. Rep. Peter King of New York, who has said he is also considering a presidential bid, called Paul's criticism of Christie over disaster relief appropriations for victims of last fall's hurricane "indefensible" in an interview with Huffington Post.
"Gov. Christie, and others, have been part of this 'gimme, gimme gimme,'" Paul said in his CNN interview. "'Gimme all this money.'" Paul said he supported relief for Sandy victims, but he would have phased it in "year by year, $9 billion the first year, and I would have offset that with spending cuts in foreign aid. I think we can take care of our country after [a] natural disaster, but only if we're not sending billions to Egypt and Pakistan. So really the question is, where's the money going to come from that the governor wants?"
Paul said the amendment he offered to the supplemental relief package would have also provided "adequate oversight," and would have "eliminated fisheries in Alaska and all the other pork barrel stuff from the bill." The Kentucky senator made similar comments at a fundraising event in Franklin, Tennessee, Sunday, when he responded to criticism from both Christie and King over the issue of national security.
"They're precisely the same people who are unwilling to cut the spending, and they're 'Gimme, gimme, gimme — give me all my Sandy money now,'" Paul said "Those are the people who are bankrupting the government and not letting enough money be left over for national defense."
"This was absolutely life or death money that was essential to New York and New Jersey," King said. The New York Republican also went after Paul for calling former intelligence analyst Edward's Snowden's revelations about the NSA surveillance program, including the collection and storage of billions of e-mails and other electronic communications each day, an act of civil disobedience. Snowden, who has been charged with espionage and theft of government property, has fled the country and is currently seeking temporary asylum in Russia.
"This is the anti-war, left-wing Democrats of the 1960s that nominated George McGovern and destroyed their party for almost 20 years. I don't want that happening to our party," King told CNN's Candy Crowley on State of the Union.
Christie attempted to turn Paul's "pork" argument against him, stating that Kentucky gets $1.51 back from the federal government for every dollar it sends to Washington, while New Jersey gets only 61 cents.
"Sen. Paul could, you know, deal with that when he's trying to deal with the reduction in spending on the federal side," Christie said at a press conference Tuesday announcing federal grants for homeowners who suffered damage from Hurricane Sandy. "But I doubt he would, because most Washington politicians only care about bringing home the bacon so they can get reelected."
Paul said the disparity might be due to the fact that Kentucky is home to two military bases. The Fort Campbell and Fort Knox Army bases are in Kentucky, but there is also a significant military presence in New Jersey, CNN noted, with a joint facility housing the McGuire Air Force base, the Naval Air Engineering Station at Lakehurst, and Fort Dix, an Army base.
"Is Gov. Christie recommending that we shut down our military bases?" Paul asked. "He wants to be this great champion of national defense, what does he want to do, shut down military bases in Kentucky?"
The verbal volley between Christie and Paul began last week when Christie, taking part in a panel discussion at the Republican Governors Association Conference in Aspen, Colorado, warned of a "strain of libertarianism" in both political parties that the New Jersey governor labeled "a very dangerous thought." He offered that observation after the U.S. House of Representatives narrowly defeated (205-217) an amendment to defund the majority of the collection of the billions of phone call records gathered and stored each day by the National Security Agency. Asked if he considered Sen. Paul a carrier of that "strain of libertarianism," Christie said, "Listen, you can name any one of them that's engaged in this and he's one of them."
Residents of his state suffered the second highest number of victims, after New York, from the terrorist attacks of September 11 2001, Christie said, as he defended the NSA surveillance program against what he called "esoteric, intellectual debates," an apparent reference to concerns expressed over privacy rights and violations of the Fourth Amendment ban on "unreasonable searches and seizures."
"I want them to come to New Jersey and sit across from the widows and the orphans and have that conversation," Christie said at the governors' conference. "I'm very nervous about the direction this is moving in."
The amendment to limit NSA data collection did not reach the Senate, but Paul has spoken out more than once against the scope of the NSA searches. At the fundraiser in Tennessee Sunday, Paul said: "I don't mind spying on terrorists, I just don't like spying on all Americans." In a June 6 statement released from his Senate office, Paul called the NSA's seizure and surveillance of phone records "an astounding assault on the Constitution."
Responding to Christie's comments about "esoteric and intellectual debates," Paul told Blitzer, "I don't think the Bill of Rights is esoteric, I don't think the Fourth Amendment is esoteric and I think the idea that we should have a right to privacy is not esoteric."
Paul accused Christie of starting the squabble between them and said it is hurting, rather than helping, the Republican Party, which he noted, has been shrinking in the Northeast, Christie's geographical base.
"I'm the one trying to grow the party by talking about libertarian ideas of privacy on the Internet," Paul said. Christie, for his part, said he was simply giving an honest answer to a question when asked about Paul's contribution to what he called a dangerous "strain of libertarianism."
"If you ask me a question, I give an answer," said the governor, who suggested it is Paul who is spoiling for a fight. "You know, his response seems that he has something personal against me, but that's okay," Christie said. "He can just get in line on that front."
Photo of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie: AP Images