“And I said: ‘Not on my watch. Absolutely not on my watch,’ ” she said.
Murray rallied female senators to take the floor early the next morning to blast the idea. Again, her advice to hold firm at a key moment bore fruit: Democrats ultimately forced the GOP to give on the issue.
Behind the scenes, Murray was credited by colleagues with recognizing that female voters in key races could be galvanized around the idea that Republicans were more concerned about limiting access to abortion and contraception than promoting jobs and the economy.
It proved to be an exceptionally powerful campaign message, especially after Republicans in Missouri and Indiana made intemperate remarks about rape and abortion.
“She strategically saw how, not only was it the right thing to do, but that it was politically important for us to make that case to people,” said Guy Cecil, executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Now, she’s preparing to take on another job thought thankless by many — chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. She will succeed retiring Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), a highly respected centrist who nevertheless drew fire from Republicans for presiding over a committee that did not get a budget off the Senate floor in three years.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (Ala.), the committee’s ranking Republican, praised Murray for a reputation for moderation and common sense. But, he warned, the committee’s functioning will not improve if Murray is beholden to Reid.
“I think one of the challenges Senator Murray will have is will she move forward with a budget? Or will the majority leader prefer not to have a budget and will she go along with that?” Sessions said.
Murray has not guaranteed the committee will produce a budget under her leadership, although she said she hopes debt talks underway could result in a spending agreement between the parties that will last into next year.
“I think the budget challenge is the same as everything I’ve ever done. You can say, ‘Gosh, that’s hard,’ and not agree to take it on,” she said.
“Then you don’t have the ability to impact it in a way that’s important to you.”
Paul Kane contributed to this report.