Congressional Corner With Chris Murphy | WAMC

Congressional Corner With Chris Murphy

Oct 28, 2020

It hasn’t gotten much attention this cycle, but foreign policy is a key factor in the race for the White House.

In today’s Congressional Corner, Democratic Connecticut U.S. Senator Chris Murphy wraps up his conversation with WAMC’s Alan Chartock.

This interview was recorded October 20.

Alan Chartock: Chris Murphy, here in the Congressional Corner, I wanted to ask you about foreign policy. You know, there's some people who think that Joe Biden wins that you'll be the Secretary of State, or an another top cabinet position. How do you react to that?

Senator Chris Murphy: Well, I don't. I think we've got to win this election and, you know, I think these lists are going to come fast and furious as to who's going to be, you know, in the president's cabinet. I don't take them too seriously. But I certainly do care a lot about national security, I've spent a lot of time over the course of the last eight years trying to build a progressive foreign policy agenda, and agenda that learns from our mistakes in trying to change political realities in far off places with the US military alone. But an agenda that also understands that America can play a force for good in the world. And that, you know, if you're a progressive and you care about, you know, domestic wage stagnation, or climate change, or the health of American democracy, well, then you have to care about the rest of the world, because there's no domestic progressive priority that doesn't have a foreign policy component to it. So I'm just going to continue to try to, you know, be a leader on foreign policy and national security, try to force people to think a little bit outside of the box, when it comes to how we protect America moving forward. And I'll serve in any capacity that I can to most effectively push that agenda.

You know, kids playing baseball, they used to sit around and ask questions, like, what's better being a United States senator and your own boss, or being Secretary of State? So there's your question.

There's no kids that sit around talking about that question. That's not true. I was, I was a kid that was pretty interested in politics, but I don't think I ever had that conversation on a baseball field. So, yeah, I mean, listen, this is a great job. Right? And I think it's a really important job right now of you know, in Connecticut, we got a lot of challenges. We have a state that still needs federal funding in order to be able to beat this virus, we've got to state that…

Let me interrupt and say, is that gonna happen? You know, you got you got the White House in negotiating with Nancy Pelosi. Is there gonna be resolution?

I don't think so before the election in part because, almost entirely due to the fact that there's nobody to negotiate with. Trump's position changes on a daily basis. Mitch McConnell won't actually even enter the negotiating room, because more than half of his caucus don't want any more funding for COVID. So it's very hard to negotiate when there's nobody to negotiate with. Maybe that'll change after the election. But I think that's the state of play between now and Election Day.

How do you talk to those Republicans who are saying we don't want anything to happen when it means putting something on the kids’ plates?

Yep. These Republicans, they generally believe in the illegitimacy of government, but in particular, they believe in the illegitimacy of the federal government. So what they will tell you, and I have these conversations with them is, well the state should just deal with this. Every state is different, the rates of infection are different in each state so they just need to deal with it. And if they have to raise taxes, they need to raise taxes. So I think the way they sort of live with themselves is to just say that ultimately, this is a state problem. Of course, it isn't. This virus does not respect borders, the medical supply chain can't be fixed on a state by state basis. And so there has to be a federal response and national response. But that's their belief that ultimately, this should be done one state at a time.

Now, let's talk the Russians. Let's let our hair down and just try to figure this one out. You got Donald Trump, who from the first day has been saying I love the Russians, and I love Putin. To this day, I'm not aware of anything bad he's ever said about anything Russian. Some of the people who work for him have but he hasn't leading some people like me to believe somehow they got something on him or that he is their puppet. And if he has to leave the country, there are those of us who believe we know where he'll go. So my question to you is what's going on with the Russians?

It's hard to know. I hope everybody will, you know, at least, you know, take a quick look at the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the 2016 election because they come to the conclusion that there was collusion, that there was a massive set of communications between the Trump campaign and Russian agents. And so as much as Trump wants to say that there wasn't collusion, the Senate Intelligence Committee, Republicans and Democrats, came to the conclusion that there was. And as you mentioned, it's pretty stunning how President Trump refuses over and over again to stand up to Vladimir Putin. Vladimir Putin tried to murder his chief political rival Alexei Navalny, and Trump hasn't said a word about it, and in fact, has doubted whether Putin was even behind it. So there's clearly something going on here. You know, whether or not Russia has some secret information on Trump, I don't know. But a perfectly plausible explanation is that Trump is simply relying on Russia to interfere in the 2020 election. And he doesn't want to screw that up by being too tough on Putin.

So we're sort of running out of time, we have a little bit of time. So I wanted to ask you real quickly, what are the top foreign policy concerns that you have, that would might be awaiting the next president?

Well, you're gonna have to rebuild the international public health infrastructure, right? America is gonna have to rejoin the WHO, we are going to have to stand up new capacities to make sure that if a virus like coronavirus, pops up again, that we can localize it, we can keep it from spreading. Second, climate change. We've got about five years before, this thing is irreversible. And so it's not just rejoining Paris, it's also about passing domestic legislation, an American climate change bill that allows us to be able to lead with real moral authority when we're asking other countries to make major changes as well. And then lastly, getting out of these endless wars, you know, finding a way to pull ourselves out of places like Afghanistan, and Syria, and Iraq, and really giving our foreign policy toolkit new tools beyond just the tip of the military spear. We got to plus up our ability to fight propaganda, we got to plus up our ability to do international economic financing like the Chinese do. So you just got to rebuild the way in which we interact with the world.

What about Iran? In the beginning, we heard Trump, you know, would cause trouble with Iran, he would pick up fight at the last minute, there will be war. And then we haven't heard much about Iran lately. What's going on?

Well, you know, Iran is still probing at us. All the time in Iraq, we've seen an uptick in the number of rocket attacks on US bases and Iraqi bases. The President is talking about continuing to ratchet up these crippling sanctions on the Iranian economy, which doesn't actually seem to be bringing them back to the negotiating table and it may end up just getting elected and next year's presidential elections in Iran, a hardliner, who will go right back to the kind of nuclear buildup that we've all worried about. So Trump's Iran policy has been a disaster. And it's going to be really important for President Biden to find a way to reengage with the Iranians, and try to get ourselves back into the nuclear agreement or something close to it so that we can prevent a nuclear arms race in the region. And we can try to cut down on the threat that the Iranians and Iranian proxies still pose to American forces in the region.

So I only got a couple of seconds, but I wanted to ask you this. Is Joe Biden gonna win this election?

He's gonna win this election, but only if we all do the work. We took for granted in 2016, that Hillary Clinton was gonna coast to victory. So some people stayed at home, other people didn't go out and make the phone calls and knock on the doors that they should have. We're not gonna do that, again. Joe Biden's gonna win. But he's gonna win, but only if we, those of us that believe in him do our work.

Chris Murphy, we can't tell you how indebted we are to you for showing up and for talking to us. You're on CNN all the time. You're in the Times, you're in every newspaper. And here you are with WAMC and we love you for it. Thank you very, very much.

Thanks. I'll talk to you soon.