Politics This Week: Questions About Christie and the Government Shutdown Showdown

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Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, Karen Tumulty, national political correspondent for The Washington Post, and New York Times national correspondent Jackie Calmes discussed the latest national political news.

Renewed Christie speculation

Over and over again, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has rejected the idea of running for president in 2012; earlier this year, he told CNN's Piers Morgan that he was "100 percent certain" he would not seek the Republican nomination.

But that hasn't dampened the hopes of many Republican voters who would still like to see Christie join the race. Craving an alternative to the current field (even enthusiasm about Rick Perry has waned), the Right has Christie on a very short list of dream candidates. Given that it's so late in the game, and that there are so many hats in the ring, Jackie Calmes said it was unusual for a party to clamor for yet another option.

It just underscores how dissatisfied Republicans are with their field as it stands...I see this every four years it seems—the party that's trying to take back the White House is unhappy with their candidates—but this time it's really striking.

Karen Tumulty said that all this fretting reflects how badly Republicans want to beat Obama more than it reflects the weakness of the candidates.

It's not a field that on paper looks all that weak; but Republicans feel as though there's this opportunity here to beat a weakened incumbent president, and they're just scared they're going to blow it.

The next government shutdown

Perhaps another shutdown showdown isn't terribly surprising, but that it's happening over disaster relief funds has raised some eyebrows. Recent natural disasters like the Joplin tornadoes and Hurricane Irene have increased demand for emergency money, demand that Republicans want filled if and only if the money comes from cutting spending elsewhere.

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives sent a bill to the Senate that took $1.5 billion from investment in alternative energy in order to fund relief efforts. The Democrat-controlled Senate quickly rejected the bill, hoping to pay for relief without dipping into other programs. Karen Tumulty said this wasn't going to help anyone's opinion of Congress.

The only thing I can figure is that Congress is trying to figure out whether there's actually a way to drive its approval rating into the single digits...This is exactly the reason that people like Bill McInturff, the Republican pollster, are warning these guys: You have no sense of how outraged the public is when they see these kinds of games.

Jackie Calmes said that the Democrats have the more convincing argument of the two parties: Senator Mark Warner has said that it makes no sense to withhold emergency relief funds (something that's never been done before) when for the last decade we've borrowed freely to pay for infrastructure projects in the Middle East.

We've for 10, 11 years been borrowing money for our operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and building roads and schools, etc., and yet we'll have a confrontation over aid to our own cities and towns that were so hurt by these hurricanes and tornadoes? It's inexplicable.