Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie has long faced criticism for working with— and even “hugging”— President Obama in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. But he said during a campaign stop in New Hampshire on Wednesday that he never hugged the president.
Hurricane Sandy hit in days before the 2012 presidential election. Many Republicans complained that Christie gave Obama a bipartisan boost that hurt Mitt Romney at the polls, and one photo in particular is still used in attack ads against the New Jersey Governor.
“I didn’t hug him,” Christie said on Wednesday, repeating an argument he has made over and over again since 2012.
Here are six ways Christie has addressed what he calls, “the old, ‘nobody-ever-saw-it-because-it-didn’t-happen hug.’”
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Praise the president
Christie praised Obama for his support in New Jersey during a press conference on Oct. 31, 2012 in the immediate wake of Hurricane Sandy.
“He has worked incredibly closely with me since before the storm hit,” Christie said. “It’s been a great working relationship to make sure that we’re doing the jobs that people elected us to do. And I cannot thank the president enough for his personal concern and compassion for our state and for the people of our state. I heard it on the phone conversations with him, and I was able to witness it today personally.”
Facing continued criticism, Christie defended his post-Sandy actions while distancing himself from Obama’s policies during a town hall in June 2013.
“And when the storm hits the state and the president of the United States calls you and says, ‘I want to come and see it and I want to help,’ and he actually follows through on the promises that he made, then you have to say that on that part of it he did a good job,” Christie said, according to the Associated Press. “That doesn’t mean I like Obamacare, that doesn’t mean I like what he’s doing on taxes or spending or anything else.”
“For the folks who are critical of that, let me just ask them, ‘What would you have me do, exactly?’ … The president calls and says I want to come and visit and see it for myself so I can help you and I say, ‘Yeah, no. I’m for Mitt Romney, I don’t want you to come.’ Or would you have me wear my Romney sweatshirt while I was walking around with him? You know, I mean, this is ridiculous stuff.”
Ask Mitt Romney
In a March 2014 interview with Christie discussing the possibility of a future presidential run, Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly said many Republicans felt betrayed by Christie’s “bear hug with President Obama.”
“They felt that you hurt Mitt Romney, a week before the election in what appeared at that time to be a very tight race. Did you?” Kelly asked.
“No,” the New Jersey Governor said. “And the best source for that information is not me, it’s Mitt Romney. And I’ve seen him publicly say it over and over again. That it had absolutely no affect or role in the race, either subjectively for the way he felt or objectively in terms of what their polls looked like at the time. So the answer is no. Secondly, the other thing that Romney said to me at the time was, ‘You’re doing your job. Go do your job as best as you can. I’ve had that job.'”
Deny the hug
On the day Christie announced his candidacy for president in June, Fox’s Sean Hannity recalled the infamous “hug” during an interview.
“Oh, there was no hug,” Christie said. “When you’re governor of New Jersey, you take an oath. And the oath is not an oath to party, it’s an oath of office. And my job was to make sure that when the president came there, I was courteous, I was respectful, and I asked him for the federal government’s help.”
Christie admitted that Obama had the opportunity to “look presidential” during the clean-up effort, but said “the storm did that, not me.”
“And if I had to do it all over again, Sean … I wouldn’t do anything differently because I owed that to the people who elected me governor of New Jersey,” Christie said.
Explain it was a ‘civilized’ handshake
In August 2015, Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren weighed in to declare it was, in fact, a handshake—not a hug.
“I appreciate that, and you know what, it’s a handshake, as you can see, and I think that’s what civilized people do when someone comes to your state to offer help. You shake their hand and you welcome them, which is what I did,” Christie said.
Boast about disappointing the President
“A hug with the president,” Christie said on Wednesday. “Yeah, no, I’ve got to tell you, I can’t disappoint you all enough, I didn’t hug him. And as you all have learned in New Hampshire, I hug everybody. So it was a disappointment probably for him that I didn’t hug him.”
He told people at his town hall that the incident was an example of him doing his job and prioritizing constituents.
“I will put the interest, the fate, the safety of my people every day ahead of politics. Every day,” Christie said.
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Write to Katie Reilly at Katie.Reilly@time.com