NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie spoke to thousands of conservative activists Thursday, burnishing his Republican credentials by touting his efforts to stand up to unions, reform entitlement programs and oppose abortion. Christie also defended Charles and David Koch, the billionaires who have helped sustain the conservative movement and have come under attack from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
"What they're for in Washington, D.C., is that the leader of Senate Democrats stand up and rail against two American entrepreneurs who have built a business, created jobs, and created wealth and philanthropy in this country. Harry Reid should get back to work and stop picking on great Americans who are creating great things in our country," said Christie at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference. His audience applauded.
In recent days, Reid has been calling out the Koch brothers and their role in the political system. On the Senate floor Tuesday, he said the two men had received an excellent return on their investment in the 2010 elections, since the GOP majority in the House has since helped block laws and regulations that would have protected the health of Americans. Reid said the duo were now trying to use their wealth to buy the Senate in 2014.
"Senate Republicans have opposed workplace standards that might cost the Koch brothers a few extra dimes, a few extra dollars, maybe. And the Koch brothers are returning the favor with huge donations to Republican Senate candidates, either directly or indirectly. Senate Republicans ... are addicted to Koch," Reid said.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which estimates that the brothers have spent about $30 million this year targeting Senate Democrats, has also launched a campaign around Reid's "addicted to Koch" quip.
Christie was snubbed by CPAC last year, when many conservatives were upset over his cooperation with and embrace of President Barack Obama in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. But this year, despite the ongoing Bridgegate controversy, Christie was invited to return and gave a 15-minute address.
The governor spoke about the need for a strong national defense, education reform, anti-abortion policies, small government and firmness in facing off with unions.
"We continue to talk about our ideas that government needs to be smaller. We have 6,000 fewer state employees in New Jersey today than the day I was sworn in as governor," said Christie. "For the first time in 105 years, teacher tenure has been reformed so we can finally have accountability in the classroom. ... And when they say it could never be done, twice -- twice -- for the first time since Roe v. Wade, New Jersey has elected a pro-life governor of New Jersey."
Christie hasn't always described himself as "pro-life." In 1995, when campaigning for the New Jersey General Assembly, he was a vocal supporter of abortion rights.
Christie is currently head of the Republican Governors Association, working to elect and reelect GOP governors around the country. He praised Scott Walker in Wisconsin, John Kasich in Ohio, Rick Snyder in Michigan and Rick Scott in Florida for standing up to unions and implementing "free market ideas."
He also dubbed the Democratic Party the "party of intolerance."
The Democratic National Committee quickly sent reporters an email in response to the speech, writing, "What we didn’t hear from Christie was anything about his failed economic record in New Jersey. While President Obama has led the nation to 47 consecutive months of private sector job growth, what has Christie given Jersey?"