Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) is rejecting the idea of providing a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants as “extreme,” reversing his stance ahead of a likely bid for president.

“That’s an extreme way to go,” Christie said Monday night in an interview on Fox News’s “The Kelly File.” “I don’t believe that’s the way to go and I don’t believe that’s where the American people are.”

The New Jersey governor praised the idea during an interview on ABC’s “This Week” back in 2010, calling on the president and Congress to “put forward a commonsense path to citizenship.”

ADVERTISEMENT
But Christie has recently walked back those calls, becoming a vocal critic of Democrats' immigration policies. He joined a brief supporting an injunction that’s blocking President Obama’s controversial executive actions from last November. And he’s criticized Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton as “pandering” to Hispanics for backing a pathway to citizenship.

During the interview on Fox, he again accused both Clinton and Obama of pandering and defended his change of heart, saying he had learned more about the issue.

“Back in 2010, I was in my first couple of months as governor, I’ve now learned some of the ramifications of some of these things and what I am saying now is we’ve got to come up with a solution for it,” he said.

“Just immediately going to a path to citizenship — as Hilary Clinton is proposing to do — is just pandering politics, it’s not based upon an educated study of an issue.”

A pathway to citizenship is a difficult issue for many Republicans in 2016, with much of the party's voters opposed to measures they deride as amnesty for illegal immigrants.

The issue has been politically perilous for candidates like former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-Fla.), who supports it, and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who helped draft an immigration reform compromise that included a path to citizenship before backing away from the plan.

Polls show the party as a whole is split. A 2014 poll from the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institute found that 51 percent of Republicans support a pathway to citizenship, but only 37 percent of those who identify with the Tea Party back that plan.