Amid Helicopter Hubbub, Christie Signs a Potentially Lifesaving Bill

Like most Christie press conferences, this was a mix of politics and policy, circus and theater

Gov. Chris Christie made little pretense about what brought the media horde to a routine bill-signing yesterday. And he didn’t seem to mind a bit.

In the wake of his headline-making State Police helicopter ride to his son’s high school baseball game on Tuesday, let’s just say the dozens of reporters at St. Clare’s Hospital weren’t there to ask him about the new law’s newborn-screening requirement.

“Normally, complex legislation like this doesn’t get such broad coverage,” Christie said with more than a touch of sarcasm. “I’d say we’ve broken through.”

Welcome to the political theater that is a Christie press conference. The irony this time out is that Christie did sign a pioneering piece of legislation, despite all the chatter about “Copter-Gate.”

The new law requires so-called pulse oximetry to be performed within 24 hours of birth in all state-licensed healthcare facilities. It is the first such requirement in the country and one that sponsors said could save scores of lives.

Pulse oximetry is a noninvasive procedure that measures the amount of oxygen in a person’s blood. It can be used to detect congenital heart defects, one of the leading causes of death among infants.

State officials said the test will be conducted on more than 100,000 infants each year and could detect heart defects in as many as 100, allowing for early treatment.

Arriving more than a half-hour late to the Denville hospital, Christie walked into the whir of cameras in the standing-room-only conference room and, at least for a few minutes, spoke about how he wanted to show public support for the new law.

As news photographers rushed forward with his arrival, the governor sat at a desk besides the podium and signed the law. He thanked the legislative sponsors and the hospital for being his host. He even made a quip about his new health commissioner, Mary O’Dowd, being pregnant and her new child being among the early ones to be screened.

“This was important to me to not only support, but I wanted to sign it publicly,” Christie said.

But the tightly choreographed press conference soon gave way to something more resembling a carnival, as Christie was not just ready to take questions about his helicopter flight but even invited them.

Actually, the first question proved anticlimactic, with someone asking about the bill and its costs to hospitals. Christie said they would be negligible and tried again.

“Have we exhausted all the pulse oximetry questions?’ he asked, looking out into the crowd.

The second question did not disappoint, probing into his thinking during the helicopter tempest.

For the next half hour, Christie took on copter queries, seizing the offensive and saying he would reimburse the costs after initially saying he wouldn’t and criticizing his critics for questioning his intentions. The reporters on hand were not spared.

“I understand this is a fun media story for you all, I get it,” he said.

In the end, even Christie had enough, uncharacteristically cutting the questions short before the last one was asked.

“Thank you very much for coming,” he said.

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