Obama, Christie meet at the White House

Superstorm Sandy

Christie pitches Obama for more storm recovery aid

By ANDREW MIGA | AP 

WASHINGTON (AP) — New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie reunited with President Barack Obama on Thursday for the first time since the pair teamed up in response to Superstorm Sandy.

Christie made an unannounced visit to the White House, where he met with Obama to press for $83 billion in extra disaster aid for his state plus New York and Connecticut.

Obama is expected to ask Congress for about $50 billion in additional emergency aid for 11 states struck by the late October storm.

Christie made a similar pitch to a fellow Republican, House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, later at the Capitol. He also met with Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., who chairs the appropriations subcommittee on homeland security, which oversees aid. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg have made similar trips to Washington recently to press for federal money, and Cuomo spoke with Obama by phone Thursday, the White House said.

Christie wouldn't talk to reporters about his meeting with the president.

The New Jersey governor could seek the presidency himself in 2016. His warm praise of Obama's handling of the storm just days before the election in November drew fire some fellow Republicans. But the fast friendship Christie and Obama formed as they toured the devastation from Sandy in the final days before the presidential election could pay dividends for a governor eager to rebuild his state and in need of federal dollars.

Christie dodged questions from the throng of reporters who trailed him through the corridors of the Capitol. He ran into Sen. Scott Brown, a Massachusetts Republican who lost in November, in a Senate hallway. The pair embraced and Christie promised to call Brown.

Christie's White House visit even sparked speculation he might be carrying a private message from the president to Boehner. Obama and the speaker talked by telephone Wednesday about averting the so-called fiscal cliff, a combination of automatic tax increases and spending cuts set to begin in January. A Boehner spokesman declined to say what the speaker and Christie talked about.

"Going home, guys," Christie said after emerging from his Boehner meeting, his final stop of the day on Capitol Hill. "I'm not talking, guys."

Then he headed to a taping of Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" with Jon Stewart set to air Thursday night.

Christie's pitch on federal aid was echoed by other officials at a Senate panel hearing Thursday.

Trains, tracks, tunnels, bridges, roads, rail stations and airports damaged from Superstorm Sandy will cost billions of dollars to repair, and even more to make them resilient enough to prevent similar devastation from future storms, lawmakers and transportation officials from New York and New Jersey told the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee's transportation subcommittee .

Transportation infrastructure in New York suffered $7.5 billion in damage, said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates the city's subway system, pegged its damages at $5 billion.

James Weinstein, executive director of NJ Transit, said $100 million is needed to repair or replace storm-damaged equipment, including rolling stock, for New Jersey's transit system. He said it will take another $300 million to fix and replace track, wires, signaling, electrical substations and other equipment, and to cover the cost of supplemental bus and ferry service and lost revenue.

Amtrak got off relatively lightly, the train system's CEO, Joseph Boardman, told the Senate Commerce transportation subcommittee. Including lost revenue, the storm's cost to Amtrak is about $60 million, he said. Improvements to tunnels and equipment made with money from Obama's stimulus program mitigated some of the storm's damage, he said.

___

Associated Press writers Joan Lowy and Julie Pace contributed to this report.

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