New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said he has no regrets about calling a former Navy SEAL an "idiot" during a shouting match at a recent public event, as a Democratic leader urged him to apologize and put an end to "schoolyard taunts."
Christie's comment capped off two minutes of increasingly heated back-and-forth with 34-year-old William Brown at a town hall-style event in Burlington County on Thursday.
"He acted like an idiot. He's an idiot. I don't have any regret about it at all," Christie said Monday during a news conference after touring a regional high school and meeting with students in a financial literacy class.
Brown, an Iraq war veteran and former Democratic candidate for state Assembly, challenged the Republican governor's plan to merge two public universities, Rutgers and Rowan. He is a law student at the Rutgers-Camden campus who opposes the merger.
Thursday's exchange ended with Christie berating the Mount Laurel man, who had interrupted the governor several times before being escorted from the event. The governor said: "Let me tell you something, after you graduate from law school, you conduct yourself like that in a courtroom, your rear end's going to be thrown in jail, idiot."
"I allowed him to talk for two, two-and-a-half minutes to lay out his position. I sat there and tried to answer. Every time I tried to answer, he yelled and started to interrupt. He did it four different times," Christie said Monday. "If you want to get into with me, I'm happy to get into it with you. But if you give it, you're going to get it back."
Christie said he's willing to entertain divergent viewpoints but insists on respect. He said Brown went to the town hall with a political agenda "to try to make me look bad."
Brown said Monday the governor is mistaken.
"I didn't make the governor look bad, the governor made the governor look bad," he said. "I never called the governor an idiot. He called me an idiot."
Brown said he went to the town hall to represent the viewpoint of 10,000 people who have signed an online petition opposing the merger, and that he meant no disrespect.
"I didn't mean to be disrespectful to the governor and if it came across that way, I apologize," he said. "The governor has a history of humiliating citizens who disagree with him."
Assembly Democratic Leader Lou Greenwald said Christie should apologize.
"Unless Gov. Christie is using his town hall meetings to audition for a spot on the Real Housewives of New Jersey, he should apologize immediately for his immature and nasty remarks," Greenwald said in a statement. "Legitimate policy disagreements should never devolve into schoolyard taunts."
Christie said he honors Brown's military service, but that "doesn't give him the right to be a jerk."
This is not the first time the tough-talking Republican governor has been criticized for using blunt language.
He infamously suggested that the media "take the bat out" on a then-76-year-old Democratic state senator who criticized him in 2011, and referred to another woman Democrat in the Legislature as "a jerk" after she criticized him for taking a state police helicopter to his son's baseball game.