DES MOINES, Iowa, March 7, 2015 – Kicking off an historic, agriculture-focused test of presidential candidates, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie slammed the Obama administration’s regulatory policy and inaction on biofuel mandates, key concerns for Iowa agriculture, but he endorsed keeping the trade embargo on Cuba.
Christie, the first likely GOP presidential candidate to take the stage Saturday morning at the Iowa Ag Summit, also flatly ruled out the idea of labeling biotech foods, calling it a “solution in search of a problem.”
The summit’s sponsor, Bruce Rastetter, sought to keep strict control of the candidates by interviewing each one of them on a range of issues from ethanol to trade, immigration, food stamps and tax policy.
During his 20-minute Q&A, Christie was armed with answers designed to play well with Iowa agriculture, with the exception of President Obama’s effort to normalize relations with Cuba.
On ethanol, Christie emphatically endorsed the Renewable Fuel Standard and attacked President Obama for the EPA’s failure to finalize biofuel usage targets. “Let’s make sure we comply with the law,” Christie said.
Rastetter didn’t press Christie on the key issue of where the targets should be set. The EPA is considering lowering the targets from the levels set by Congress in 2007 to keep them in line with the current market limits for ethanol, the so-called blend wall.
Ending the embargo Cuba is premature, Christie said. “The president doesn’t know how to negotiate and you don’t give away the idea of trading with America for nothing,” Christie told Rastetter.
U.S.-Cuba policy is a potential landmine for GOP candidates because while farm interests see it a big potential market, preserving the embargo is a major issue with the Cuban-American community in the critical swing state of Florida.
Christie also had to thread a needle on immigration, a polarizing issue across rural America and the Midwest in particular. Corn and soybean growers are heavily mechanized and need little outside labor, but the dairy, meat and egg industries throughout the Midwest and elsewhere have in many cases become dependent on undocumented workers. At the same time, the influx of illegal workers in rural areas, has sometimes fueled a grass-roots resistance to immigration.
Christie told Rastetter that the unwillingness of “our national leaders” to deal with immigration policy “hurts our economy,” he said. “We should have a clear, legal, reliable guestworker program that folks in agriculture and others can rely on,” Christie said. But in a bow to voters' concerns about border security, he said that immigration must be "fair and legal."
Christie strongly endorsed the federally subsidized crop insurance program, which the White House has targeted for cuts, saying it “provides the right kind of safety net. … Let’s face it if we don’t do that often times the government will step in anyway in the areas of disaster and it will be 100 percent on taxpayers,”, he said.