I'm on record as not liking Gov. Chris Christie. Two years ago I deemed him the "biggest sham in American politics."
Now he has the opportunity to prove me wrong.
While there is much political fuss over Christie's decision, following the death of Sen. Frank Lautenberg, to hold the special election for the vacant Senate seat in October and not November, that one-month difference has no impact on who will be chosen to serve out the final year of Lautenberg's term.
However, the decision that Christie has yet to make – who will occupy the seat in the interim before the special election – could have a great impact on Obama's second-term agenda and the long-term functionality of the Senate.
Before the October special election, the Senate will almost certainly vote on landmark immigration reform, maybe on background checks, possibly on major nominations such as the three newly named to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau ... and don't be surprised if over the summer there's one or more Supreme Court vacancies to fill.
Plus, the government's spending authority needs to be extended by September 30th or else we face a shutdown. The debt limit may need to be increased around that time as well, raising the prospect of another anxiety-filled partisan budget standoff.
What type of person will Christie choose to potentially take part in all of these highly charged battles?
Will Christie choose to mend faces with the rabid right-wingers who have marked him as a traitor ever since he praised President Obama's response to Hurricane Sandy? Will he pick yet another conservative obstructionist to add to Mitch McConnell's legislation-killing army?
Or will Christie abide by his own words from this past January? In a speech delivered in Washington to the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, he pleaded for bipartisanship: "At times we have to use a word that has become a curse word in this town – compromise." He demanded Washington leaders "get something done" and lamented that what "the American people are suffering from at the moment is a lack of trust."
In a narrow sense, replacing the liberal Lautenberg with a Republican willing to vote with the President doesn't change any whip counts. But a Republican who openly calls for bipartisanship, denounces mindless obstruction and actually backs up those words with floor votes (unlike some), might produce the political incentive for more Republicans to break from the nihilistic Tea Party.
I have argued that there is more bipartisanship in Washington that most believe even though it's more a secret bipartisan extramarital affair than a proud bipartisan lovefest. Bipartisan votes have recently repealed many of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, suspended the debt limit and expanded domestic violence protections for days. But no sooner do these votes happen do Republicans seek to mask them with reckless filibustering of widely popular measures and perfunctory nominations. As I wrote earlier, "Republicans fearful of primary challenges still won't cop to working with Obama, which limits how readily and frequently compromise can occur."
But a loud-and-proud compromiser, selected by a popular blue state Republican governor who claims to believe in bipartisan compromise, might change how the Senate works.
If I was right two years ago, and Christie is a sham, he'll throw in another filibusterer and blame President Obama for whatever gridlock follows.
If I was wrong, and Christie means what he says about bipartisanship, he send someone to Washington who leads by example.
I would like to be wrong.