Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie kicked off his campaign for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination with a June 6 town hall in Manchester, New Hampshire. We fact-checked his remarks, which included false or misleading claims about former President Donald Trump, the current Republican front-runner, whom Christie attacked several times.
- Christie was wrong that Trump promised during the 2016 campaign that he would build a border wall “across the entire Mexico border.” On the campaign trail, Trump only ever promised to build a 1,000-mile wall along the nearly 2,000-mile border.
- He blamed Trump for rampant illegal immigration, in part, he said, because Trump “never changed one immigration law.” Trump may not have signed any major immigration bills, but he did institute an unprecedented number of executive policies that transformed the immigration system and made it harder for people to cross the border illegally.
- Christie left the false impression that United States residents were the first to get access to Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine because of the U.S. free-market system. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was first made available to residents in the U.S., Canada and the European Union at about the same time in December 2020.
- Christie repeated the misleading claim that Barack Obama only provided “blankets” and “human rights aid” after Russia invaded regions of Ukraine in 2014. Obama’s administration also provided Ukraine with nonlethal military aid, including training, vehicles and radar equipment.
- He claimed that President Joe Biden initially said that “a small incursion” by Russia into Ukraine in 2022 “probably wouldn’t be a problem.” Biden said “Russia will be held accountable” for an invasion, but the U.S. response would depend on what Russia did.
- Christie also said that Trump didn’t hold any unscripted town halls in New Hampshire during the 2016 campaign cycle. But Trump’s campaign hosted a few events where he appeared to randomly select audience members who could ask him questions.
Trump’s Promised Border Wall
Christie was right that Trump didn’t fulfill his 2016 campaign promise to build a border wall and make Mexico pay for it. But Christie, who called the promise “complete bull,” falsely claimed Trump said his border wall would run “across the entire Mexico border.” On the campaign trail, Trump only ever promised to build a 1,000-mile wall along the nearly 2,000-mile border.
Christie said he regretted not confronting Trump earlier in the 2016 campaign about some of the claims and promises he made.
“Because I knew that so much of what he said was complete baloney,” Christie said. “Like I knew it. ‘I am going to build the greatest, most wonderful wall across the entire Mexico border and Mexico is going to pay for it.’ Well, like, I knew as someone who had governed that that was complete bull.”
As we wrote in our wrap-up on the history of the wall under Trump in December 2020, although the 2016 Republican platform stated, “The border wall must cover the entirety of the southern border and must be sufficient to stop both vehicular and pedestrian traffic,” that’s not actually what Trump talked about during the campaign.
At the time, Trump consistently talked about needing 1,000 miles of wall. For example, during the third Republican primary debate on Oct. 28, 2015, Trump said, “Here, we actually need 1,000 because we have natural barriers. So we need 1,000.” Christie was on the stage at the time. But that’s just one of numerous examples of Trump talking during the 2016 campaign about needing just 1,000 miles of border wall.
After Trump was elected, he began to move the goal posts — from 1,000 miles to 900 to 800 to 700 and even less. In the end, 458 miles of “border wall system” was built during Trump’s term, according to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection status report on Jan. 22, 2021. But most of it, 373 miles worth, was replacement barriers for primary or secondary fencing that was dilapidated or outdated. About 52 miles of new primary wall and 33 miles of secondary wall were built where no barriers had been before.
So Trump never built the length of wall he promised during the campaign, and Mexico never paid for any of the wall that was built. During his presidency, Trump tried to claim that Mexico was paying for the wall through the newly negotiated U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which was not accurate. Trump later claimed he never meant that Mexico would “write out a check” to pay for the wall. But as we wrote, that wasn’t true either.
Attacking Trump on Immigration
Christie blamed Trump for rampant illegal immigration, in part because Trump “never changed one immigration law.” Trump may not have signed any major immigration bills, but he did institute numerous executive policies that immigration experts said transformed the immigration system and reduced the number of people trying to cross the border illegally.
“And when you watch illegal immigration pouring over our southern border, don’t wonder whose fault it is. It’s his [Trump’s],” Christie said. “It’s his fault, because he never changed one immigration law. In the two years that he had Republicans control the Congress, not one immigration law did he change. He didn’t build the wall like he told us to. And Mexico is laughing at us, at the idea that they were going to pay for a wall on their border.”
It’s true that Congress didn’t pass — and Trump didn’t sign — any major immigration bills. In fact, the last major immigration bill that made it into law happened in 1986. But Christie’s comment ignores the numerous changes Trump instituted simply through executive actions.
According to a February 2022 Migration Policy Institute report: “Over the course of four years, the Trump administration set an unprecedented pace for executive action on immigration, enacting 472 administrative changes that dismantled and reconstructed many elements of the U.S. immigration system. Humanitarian protections were severely diminished. The U.S.-Mexico border became more closed off. Immigration enforcement appeared more random. And legal immigration became out of reach for many. All of this was accomplished nearly exclusively by the executive branch, with sweeping presidential proclamations and executive orders, departmental policy guidance, and hundreds of small, technical adjustments. Congress, which has been deadlocked on immigration legislation for years, largely sidelined itself during this period of incredibly dynamic policy change.”
As the report details, Trump increased enforcement along the border, limited asylum eligibility, significantly reduced the admission of refugees and pressured Mexico to increase its own immigration enforcement. In one example, Trump instituted changes to the Migrant Protection Protocols, better known as the “Remain in Mexico” policy, so that asylum seekers were sent to Mexico to await their court appearances in the U.S.
The COVID-19 outbreak afforded Trump further opportunity to check illegal immigration, as his administration started using Title 42, a public health law that allowed border officials to immediately return Mexican migrants caught trying to enter the country illegally. With the pandemic officially over, the Biden administration finally lifted Title 42 in early May.
“The Trump administration was arguably the first to take full advantage of the executive branch’s vast authority on immigration,” the MPI report states. “Despite the relative fragility of executive actions when compared to legislation, the pace and comprehensiveness of the moves taken by Trump and his administration likely ensure that some will have lasting effects on the U.S. immigration system long after his time in office. At the very least, the Trump administration set a precedent for conducting far-reaching immigration changes through executive activism.”
Whether those policies worked is a matter of debate. As we noted in our story, “Trump’s Final Numbers,” the number of apprehensions for illegal border crossings fluctuated wildly during Trump’s presidency. After a steep decrease in his first year in office, apprehensions increased the following two years and were higher in Trump’s final year than all but one of the years under President Barack Obama. However, the number of apprehensions exploded after Biden took office. As we noted in our latest installment of “Biden’s Numbers,” apprehensions rose 342% when comparing the 12 months ending in March to Trump’s last year in office.
Pfizer’s COVID-19 Vaccine
In rejecting price controls on pharmaceutical drugs, Christie left the misleading impression that Pfizer alone had developed a COVID-19 vaccine and U.S. residents were the first to get access to it because Pfizer benefited from the U.S. free-market system.
In fact, Pfizer partnered with BioNTech, a German-based company, on the development of a COVID-19 vaccine, which became available at the same time in several countries, including the U.S., Canada and the European Union’s 27 member countries.
Christie, June 6: When COVID happened, the American people got the treatments first and the vaccines first, because we lived here. Because we have a pharmaceutical industry in this country and that we support in this country that is changing the face of medical treatment here and throughout the world. But we get it first. And we get it first because places like Pfizer invested billions of dollars of their own money, not government money, they didn’t take any government money, billions of dollars of their own money on a technology that they didn’t even exactly know how they were going to use it. And then when COVID came, the mRNA technology they were using turned out to be able to help significantly in getting rid of the pandemic we had in this country.
So I’m very concerned about us going to a system like Canada or Great Britain, where we control prices, fix prices, and we fix profits, because then there’s no reason to take risk.
While it’s true that Pfizer didn’t receive any U.S. government funding for COVID-19 vaccine trials or research and development, its partner did receive government funding from Germany. BioNTech received $445 million from the German government in September 2020 to accelerate development of its COVID-19 vaccine candidates.
Christie didn’t mention BioNTech, but it was the German company that developed the novel messenger RNA, or mRNA, vaccine against COVID-19. “We believe that by pairing Pfizer’s development, regulatory and commercial capabilities with BioNTech’s mRNA vaccine technology and expertise as one of the industry leaders, we are reinforcing our commitment to do everything we can to combat this escalating pandemic, as quickly as possible,” a top Pfizer executive said in a March 2020 statement announcing the collaboration.
Also, Pfizer and BioNTech benefited from years of U.S. government-funded research into the platform used by the companies to successfully develop a COVID-19 vaccine. (Moderna also benefited from the U.S.-funded research for its mRNA vaccine.)
The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, which is within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “has for years invested in the messenger RNA (or mRNA) platform for vaccine development, the technology used in the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines,” the journal Health Affairs wrote in May 2021. “Since 2006, Congress has appropriated hundreds of millions of dollars that BARDA used to develop the scientific infrastructure to produce vaccines in response to the threat of pandemic flu. Thus, the basic research undergirding the COVID-19 vaccines was largely publicly supported.”
Lastly, Christie’s suggestion that Pfizer made the vaccine available to U.S. residents first is incorrect.
On July 22, 2020, Pfizer/BioNTech signed an agreement with the U.S. to deliver up to 600 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. A press release said, “The U.S. government will pay the companies $1.95 billion upon the receipt of the first 100 million doses, following FDA authorization or approval. The U.S. government also can acquire up to an additional 500 million doses.”
Pfizer/BioNTech soon signed agreements with Canada and the EU. The distribution of the vaccines depended on government authorization of the vaccine. Canada authorized the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine on Dec. 7, 2020, followed by the U.S. (Dec. 11, 2020) and the EU (Dec. 21, 2020).
It was this guarantee of a large market for COVID-19 vaccines that made the development of a vaccine financially attractive and less risky.
Obama’s Aid to Ukraine
While talking about “foreign policy mistakes” made by past U.S. presidents, Christie repeated the claim that Obama only provided Ukraine with “blankets” and “human rights aid” after Russia invaded Ukraine’s Crimea region and began seizing territory in eastern Ukraine in 2014.
“That’s how we get to the next mistake, which was, in my view, Barack Obama allowing the continued encroachment on Ukrainian territory by the Russians and doing nothing,” Christie said. “Nothing but sending them blankets, and, you know, human rights aid. No weapons to defend themselves. Well, the Russians took that as a signal we’re not going to stand up for them.”
Obama did resist calls from Ukraine’s then-President Petro Poroshenko to provide Ukraine with lethal weaponry. But, as we’ve written before, the U.S. did supply the country with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of nonlethal military and security aid. A January 2017 report from the Congressional Research Service said the U.S. gave over $1.3 billion in foreign assistance to Ukraine since armed hostilities with Russia arose in late 2013, including more than $600 million since 2014 in security aid.
Victoria Nuland, the assistant secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs at the time, detailed some of the security aid to Ukraine in March 2016 testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. For example, she said the U.S. had provided military training, communications equipment, vehicles, night-vision goggles and counter-mortar radar to detect incoming artillery fire.
Biden’s ‘Minor Incursion’ Remark
Later, Christie said that another “problem” was Biden’s January 2022 comments about what the U.S. and other NATO allies would do if Russia made a “minor incursion” into Ukraine.
“Joe Biden comes in, who appears weak, and said right in the beginning of his presidency, ‘Well, a small incursion probably wouldn’t be a problem,’” Christie claimed. “Well, here’s the problem everybody: Everybody’s definition of small is different. Vladimir Putin’s definition of small was, ‘I will take it all.’”
Christie was referring to remarks Biden made in a White House press conference about a month before Russia launched its attack on Ukraine in late February.
“I think what you’re going to see is that Russia will be held accountable if it invades,” Biden said. “And it depends on what it does. It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion and then we end up having a fight about what to do and not do, etc. But if they actually do what they’re capable of doing with the forces amassed on the border, it is going to be a disaster for Russia if they further … invade Ukraine, and that our allies and partners are ready to impose severe costs and significant harm on Russia and the Russian economy.”
When another reporter asked him to clarify his comments, Biden said: “I think we will, if there’s something … where there’s Russian forces crossing the border, killing Ukrainian fighters, etc. — I think that changes everything. But it depends on what he [Putin] does, as to the exact — to what extent we’re going to be able to get total unity … on the NATO front.”
After the press conference, then-White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki released a statement that attempted to further explain what he meant.
“President Biden has been clear with the Russian President: If any Russian military forces move across the Ukrainian border, that’s a renewed invasion, and it will be met with a swift, severe, and united response from the United States and our Allies,” the statement said. It also noted that Russian “aggression short of military action, including cyberattacks and paramilitary tactics … will be met with a decisive, reciprocal, and united response.”
Trump’s New Hampshire Town Halls
Taking another shot at Trump, Christie falsely claimed that Trump, during the 2016 campaign, didn’t have town hall events in New Hampshire like the one Christie did on June 6.
“Did Donald Trump come to New Hampshire seven years ago and stand in the middle of the room, and take any question from anybody without knowing who you were, or what your question was going to be?” Christie asked those in the crowd. “Oh, no! He went over to the hockey arena and stood in front of a large crowd and gave his normal speech. Waited for all of you to cheer and chant his name, and then he left. Got on his airplane and went home to sleep in his apartment in New York.”
But Trump held a few town halls in New Hampshire during his first campaign for president — even if they were not as long as the one Christie did to start his 2024 campaign.
During the GOP primary, Trump took questions at town hall-style events in Rochester and Londonderry. Just before the GOP convention, he had a town hall in Manchester. Then during the general election, he had at least one other in Sandown.
Trump appeared to be selecting people randomly during some of the events. An NBC News story about the town hall in Manchester said “the audience was able to ask unvetted questions.” That resulted in “a number of wild questions” being asked, the story said.
The Sandown town hall was moderated by a conservative radio show host, Howie Carr, who wrote that he “sorted through all the index cards with the questions from the audience, selecting the ones I wanted to use.”
Editor’s note: FactCheck.org does not accept advertising. We rely on grants and individual donations from people like you. Please consider a donation. Credit card donations may be made through our “Donate” page. If you prefer to give by check, send to: FactCheck.org, Annenberg Public Policy Center, 202 S. 36th St., Philadelphia, PA 19104.