New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) said Friday that he now believes he's more ready to be president of the United States after dealing with the tragic results of Superstorm Sandy, which left hundreds of thousands of families homeless in his state.
"Sandy went a long way toward making me ready," he said of the 2012 storm. He said that event forced him to process reports from the National Guard, law enforcement and others and decide how the state would pull through the crisis.
"You get prepared as a leader in those moments like nothing else can prepare you, because you have a blank piece of paper in front of you, and human suffering all around you," he said.
"To walk into a town like Belmar, which I did on the first day after the storm, a Jersey Shore town, and have a woman come up to me and grab me and begin to hug me and say into my ear, 'I've lost everything. You're the only person who can help me,' " he added.
"Those are moments in my life that I'll never forget, and have changed me as a person, and have molded me as a leader," he said.
Christie spoke at the Northern Virginia Technology Council, and declined to offer any more specific hints that he might soon declare a White House run. Many believe Christie is waiting for the results of the investigation into "bridgegate," in which Christie has said his top aides conspired to close a bridge in 2013 to get back at a New Jersey mayor who didn't support Christie re-election bid.
According to Fox News, one of those aides, David Wildstein, is expected to plead guilty on Friday. But it's not yet clear how the ongoing investigation might alter Christie's plans to run.
Christie has dropped in the most recent polls about who Republicans around the country favor as the GOP candidate in 2016. Aside from bridgegate, Christie has also been hurt because of his position on immigration.
He told the Virginia audience that on that issue, he starts from a position of realizing that no illegal immigrant will self-deport, and that there aren't enough resources to deport them all. Those positions put him at odds with many conservative Republicans who believe an attempt to deport them should be made.
However, he seemed to agree that tougher border enforcement is needed before any discussion takes place about broader reform. He said the best way to stop the flow of illegal immigrants is to make sure they can't work.
"The idea that all employers shouldn't be subject to e-verify makes no sense to me," he said. He said that program, which requires companies to verify the legal status of people before hiring them, would help signal that immigrants can't easily find jobs in the U.S. if they sneak into the country.
Christie also agreed that President Barack Obama is a big part of the problem, since Republicans don't trust him to enforce any new agreement to properly secure the border. He said the country needs a president who is "not going to look the other way" on this issue.
On economic issues, Christie sounded right in line with many other Republicans who are running for president. He said his experience in New Jersey showed him that economic growth comes from cutting government spending, and said that needs to happen at the federal level.
"If you want to reduce spending, the first place you have to start is reducing the payroll, the size of government," he said.
Christie said entitlement reform needs to play a role. He suggested raising the eligibility age for both Social Security and Medicare by two years over the next 25 years, and said means testing for Social Security is needed as well.
Tax reform is also a priority. On that issue, he took a swipe at Obama for failing to lead a real reform effort that's needed to keep U.S. based in the United States, instead of having them relocate their headquarters to a foreign country, a process known as corporate inversion.
"The president thinks that the way to stop corporate inversions is to pass a law against corporate inversions," he said. "So he wants to, you know, treat the symptom rather than the disease."
"Let's change the tax system so that no CEO feels that it's their fiduciary duty to their shareholders to engage in corporate inversion to maximize the value of their shares," he added.
Finally, Christie said education reform is needed, and said longer school days are needed if U.S. kids are going to stay competitive. He blamed teachers unions for preventing this, along with tradition.
"Our school calendar is ridiculous," he said. "It's based on the agrarian calendar. I can tell you, even in the Garden State, kids are not leaving school in June to go and till the fields, everybody."