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Congressional Corner With Chris Murphy

Senator Chris Murphy
Public Domain

Democrats are hoping 2020 is a good year.

In today’s Congressional Corner, Connecticut U.S. Senator Chris Murphy speaks with WAMC’s Alan Chartock. This interview was recorded April 27.

Alan Chartock: We are in the Congressional Corner with one of my heroes, Chris Murphy, the United States senator who used to be just a lowly congressman who has moved to the Senate and said, Hey, Alan, when I'm in the Senate, I'll be doing this program with you. And so he has, and we want to thank you, Chris, for doing that.

Senator Chris Murphy: You know, being a lowly congressman, it was still a pretty good job. So the promotion is nice, but neither one of them is chopped liver.

You know, when I said it, I said, there's gonna be trouble here. So okay, so you're right, you're absolutely right. And as least as we used to say, on Fire Island, I take it back. Okay, so now, let me let me start with a personal sort of question. You have your dignity as you've just displayed, and you’re United States Senator Chris Murphy, and you're doing a great job. But my question to you is, how can you possibly deal with this President of the United States and not grow infuriated by the day?

You know, I guess from the beginning, when he took office, my consolation was that I was in a position to try to, you know, prevent the damage he was attempting to do to the country from being as bad as it could be. I mean, I guess I feel like I'm, you know, fortunate in a way that I have a job where, you know, every single day I can get up and try to stop this nation from becoming the one that he wants it to become. And right now, this job is more important than ever. This President has effectively refused to stand up a federal response to this public health epidemic. He has left all leadership to the Congress and the states. And by and large, Congress has responded. I mean, for a place that is generally pretty dysfunctional and pretty unable to be able to pass major legislation we've passed, you know, four different major pieces of legislation, providing hundreds of billions of dollars funding and programming to help states try to turn the corner on COVID-19. And so, you know, that certainly makes me feel like this is a really worthwhile and really important job and it reminds me that, you know, if this Congress wasn't able to work together right now, then there would effectively be zero federal response because the president is unwilling or unable to do it.

The president is decided not to come out and do his nightly rambles, as we could put it. I have a theory, you're in the Senate. And so you're in a much better position to help me with this than anything else. But my theory is, it's the Republican senators who now find themselves in danger of losing the Senate and losing their jobs that have put this pressure on that has made even a guy like this, you know, pull in his horns. So what do you think?

Obviously, there was this moment last week where the President made medical recommendations that, if followed would end up with people getting killed, pumping your body full of disinfectant, for instance. You know, I do think that that was a sort of final rattling wake up call for a lot of Republicans that do have influence with the President. I think they both understood that if the president kept on going on TV and freelancing like that, people were going to end up getting hurt. But I also think they believed, as you said, that their political future was hanging in the balance as well, and every single day that the president is on TV is another very visible reminder to people that he is just fundamentally unable to manage this crisis, and that this country is probably better off with somebody else in office for the next four years. And, you know, that generally comes with a decision to put into the Senate members of the candidate’s party, so there's a lot of Republican senators that probably are guessing that the more the president stays on TV, the less likely they are to get reelected. But I think a lot of them also think that their constituents will just be better off if the president isn't on TV making very dangerous medical recommendations.

Do you think in your heart of hearts that the Democrats can take the senate?

I do. I do. I think that, you know, we have really interesting candidates, really great candidates in places like Maine and North Carolina and Iowa. You know, some political pundits suggest that Democrats have to essentially draw it inside straight in order to win, given the limited number of opportunities out there, but I do think that there's a lot of people in this country today who are just scratching their heads as to why Republicans in the Senate, you know, haven't stood up to this president. When so many of them openly resisted him as a candidate, they have now acquiesced to his racist, divisive agenda once he's been in office. And I think that, you know, what happened in 2018 with Democrats taking control of the House is probably just the beginning of a demand from voters that Congress starts acting independently from this administration or any administration.

Do you talk to them at all, the Republicans? I mean, you know, you go into the place, you're a human being, they're human beings. Do you ever just sit down with them and, you know, sort of get the lay of the land, what they're thinking because, as you say, they weren’t very kind of when is running. Now they are obsequious to a point of no return. Do they ever just let down their hair and say to you, this is off the record, but, you know, this guy's impossible?

Sure, you know, early on probably a year and I had one very conservative Republican approached me on the floor of the Senate shortly after I had said something particularly inflammatory about President Trump on Twitter, on TV, and he said to me, boy, I envy you. He said, You, you're able to say that things that we that we think, and I think the reason that Republicans stay silent is one, because they really do fear that the President will end their political career if they speak out. He has a 95% approval rating in the Republican Party and basically, you know, any Republican he's taken on in a primary he's beaten. I think they also believe that they are able to be influential with him behind the scenes. I don't see much evidence of that. But they will tell you Oh, well, you know, I am talking to him about, you know, trying to change this policy, or that policy when I see him in the Oval Office. There. I think they have all these ways that they rationalize staying quiet, but the longer term damage to the Republic, the erosion of the rule of law, the erosion to democratic norms that is occurring under this presidency, given Republicans’ general silence, is irreparable in many ways. And I think 10 years from now they will see that mistake.

You know, Chris, I'm getting a lot of mails and very frustrated people. They say, one, let's get rid of the Electoral College, as if we could snap our hands and do it or two, let's use the 25th amendment to throw the bum out. Those things. It's kind of political naiveté, but it does show the frustration doesn't it?

It does. It does. And, you know, obviously, I voted to impeach the president. I believe that he committed high crimes and misdemeanors worthy of removal. But I also remind my constituents that, you know, if you watch his speeches and his rallies during the 2016 election, he wasn't any more stable or less reckless then, than he is now. He is essentially governing as advertised. And so you got to be, you know, very careful about overturning an election. Unless the president has committed crimes that merit his removal according to constitutional standards. I also don't think it's impossible to ultimately get rid of the Electoral College, you're not going to likely do it by constitutional amendment. But there is this effort underway called the national popular vote by which each state can make a decision to pledge its electors to the winner of the popular vote and that's gaining steam.

Yeah, yeah, it is. Is there a way now that you can see the Democrats winning this election because now that he's gonna shut up, you know, and his rambling stuff, it seems to me he's gonna be in a better position. Because the republicans say okay, at least the shutting up, that's okay. That's enough for us. I know there’s a question in there somewhere.

Yeah, yeah. Well, we're you know, we're talking on Monday and you're saying that because the President has canceled one briefing today. And there's been a million moments in this presidency where people predicted that he had finally decide to fly the straight narrow, he had suddenly become much more presidential. Every single time you think that the president is going to start spouting off less, that lasts for about two or three days. So I think President Trump is going to be President Trump from here to the election. And I think that this crisis has woken the American people up to the danger of having somebody in office who is this unstable, and this uninterested in actually doing the basic blocking and tackling of running the executive branch. For some people, you know, this was mostly entertainment. It didn't affect their lives in a personal way for the first two and a half years. For many people it did affect their lives. Well, now it's affecting everybody's lives. The fact that this present wasted all of January, February, most of March. Well, this virus spread to the United States has put us in a position where we're going to have as many people out of work as the Great Depression. And lots of people are to blame for that. China needs to account for itself. But President Trump could have made different decisions early on in this crisis that would have spared us the economic pain that we are going through today. And that is very real to lots of people in this country. And they are not going to forget that in November, because even by November, there are still going to be 10 to 20% of people that don't have their jobs.

Wonderful to have the opportunity to talk to Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, Chris, so much, so much is going by every day. It's hard to keep up. When we come back the next time. I got a lot more questions for you. Thank you, Chris.


Dr. Alan Chartock is professor emeritus at the University at Albany. He hosts the weekly Capitol Connection series, heard on public radio stations around New York. The program, for almost 12 years, highlighted interviews with Governor Mario Cuomo and now continues with conversations with state political leaders. Dr. Chartock also appears each week on The Media Project and The Roundtable and offers commentary on Morning Edition, weekdays at 7:40 a.m.