CHRIS MURPHY: Yeah. I’m exhausted. And so it is hard to understand how this pace continues but I don’t think we have any other choice. And though we lost nomination fights this week that weren’t unexpected, there is a feeling amongst those that are coming out and engaging in these protests, that they are meaningful; that we can see, in tangible ways, results. … It’s hard to imagine how the pace keeps up, but to the extent that people feel like they’re getting somewhere, that they’re having an impact, it’s not chilling their enthusiasm.
On cooperating with Trump:
HOHMANN: There’s so much frustration with Donald Trump among the base of the Democratic Party. Is there any realistic chance that Democrats are going to be able to work with the president when the base is so frustrated?
MURPHY: Well, it’s not just that the base is outraged. It’s that Donald Trump is offering no hand of cooperation right now. So I think the chances that there is some major bipartisan breakthrough are winnowing by the day. When you have the president of the United States calling the minority leader of the Senate a clown … it just doesn’t suggest that there’s going to be this moment in which we’re going all sit down. It doesn’t look like he’s really prepared to extend that hand. And, then, it also doesn’t look like the White House today has the capacity to actually put together the one, two, three, four, five steps necessary to get a big, major deal on something like infrastructure or tax reform. So I think theoretically people like me, who have been a big part of the resistance, are still willing to work on infrastructure package, or strengthening buy-America laws, or making more sense for trade policy, but I just don’t see that he’s truly interested in getting that done. He’ll bring a couple Democratic senators over there for a photo op, but there doesn’t seem to be anything to suggest that that big breakthrough moment is coming.
HOHMANN: How do Democrats avoid labeled as “the party of no?” How do you not just become viewed as part of the gridlock and obstruction that’s preventing anything from getting done?
MURPHY: I think it’s important to make it very explicit that there are possible lanes of cooperation. And he doesn’t take those offers.
On whether Andy Puzder can be stopped:
HOHMANN: Andy Puzder’s hearing to run the Labor Department has been rescheduled four times now, but it’s finally coming up next week. Is there any possibility that he won’t be able to get confirmed?
MURPHY: I have no idea what the rules are any longer. So it’s hard for me to say. … In any other year, Andy Puzder wouldn’t have any chance at confirmation. But frankly, in any other year, he wouldn’t have had a chance at nomination. This is somebody who made his name by openly mocking worker. That’s why he was kind of a TV celebrity, because he would come on and say pretty outrageous things about American workers. Half of his restaurants have failed to meet basic Department of Labor wage laws. And now we find that he had a worker in his house who is undocumented. This is just a mountain of baggage that would normally sink any other nominee. But I just don’t know what the rules are, uh, any longer.
Republicans, at some point, are going to wake up and realize that if they continue to back up a guy with 30-something percent approval ratings, at a 100 percent rate, there’s going to be electoral consequences for them. Having voted for every single one of his nominees is probably not a good advertisement for your reelection. And this guy would be the easiest for them to oppose. … If we had like a department of fast food, he’s your guy. But we don’t. We have a Department of Labor, and there’s probably somebody else that’s better qualified.
On health care:
HOHMANN: The HELP Committee has jurisdiction over healthcare. You were in the House when the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010. Where do you see this going?
MURPHY: On inauguration day for the new Congress, I would have said, “80/20, this thing is getting repealed.” I’m not even sure if it’s 50/50 now. The Affordable Care Act is above water now by almost double digits. It’s getting, literally, more popular by the day, as people realize what their life would be like if it was gone. It was a very important moment early on, where Democrats told Republicans unequivocally that, “If you break this, you own it.” If my eight-year-old took a very expensive glass vase and threw it on the floor, I’m not terribly interested in then sitting down with him, and trying to tape it back together. Because it’s not going to be as good as that vase was in the first place. And that’s kind of what happens if you break the Affordable Care Act. You can’t put it back together in a meaningful way.
On Michael Flynn talking about sanctions with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. before the inauguration:
MURPHY: Of course he did. Of course that was the context of the conversation. Listen, every single day that our Russia policy remains as muddled as it does, there are consequences playing out around the globe. It doesn’t matter what Nikki Haley says in the U.N. when two days later the president of the United States casts doubt on whether the Russians are even in Ukraine. As we speak today, the Russians are advancing in eastern Ukraine. As we speak today, inside the Balkans, the Russians are pressing their advantage further in places like Bosnia, potentially setting of a catastrophic chain of events in the weeks and months to come. So every day that it is totally unclear what the U.S. policy is on Russia and their effort to try to achieve a sphere of influence, Russia is moving. And until we draw a line somewhere, until we tell them that we are going to continue sanctions and grow them, Russia is going to get closer to what they want, which is a little area around Russia in which they run things.
Next weekend you will have the first major international security conference of the Trump administration in Munich.
MURPHY: It looks like there will be fairly robust representation from the Trump administration, and it’ll be interesting to see what commitments (Mike) Pence, (Jim) Mattis and (Rex) Tillerson make there, and whether or not, after they make those commitments, Donald Trump tweets something out contradicting whatever they say. So there’s a lot of expectations built up for the Munich Security Conference. The Russians will be there. They’ll be listening closely to what the Administration says. … Nikki Haley I think is going to be a very important person in this administration, but, let’s be honest, the Russians are listening to Donald Trump. They are not listening to Nikki Haley.
On losing sleep over Yemen:
HOHMANN: When Barack Obama was president, you criticized U.S. weapon sales to Saudi Arabia, that the Saudis have used in their military campaign in Yemen has exacerbated the humanitarian crisis there. Yesterday you joined Rand Paul and Mike Lee, along with Al Franken, to request a classified briefing from the administration on our actions and objectives in Yemen. Obviously one of our Navy SEALs died. Are you concerned about American escalation there?
MURPHY: I lose sleep at night over our Yemen policy. It’s been a disaster for years, and I’ve been openly critical. I was openly critical of the Obama administration’s decision to support the reckless Saudi bombing campaign inside Yemen, but I think what is happening now is even more dangerous. What was not widely covered in the statement that Michael Flynn made in which he told the Iranians that they were “on notice” is that he didn’t just put them on notice for the ballistic missile test. Inside that statement, he seemed to suggest that if the Houthis inside Yemen continued to attack the Saudi forces, that would be an equivalent provocative action to a ballistic missile test, suggesting that we had a new security guarantee for the Saudi-backed forced inside Yemen.
So the potential for war and conflict with Iran gets bigger and bigger. I don’t think America has a dog in the fight in the Yemeni civil war. The Saudis are our ally, but you don’t need to back every single one of your ally’s plays. And what is happening inside that country is, as the civil war just drags on, ISIS and Al-Qaeda are getting stronger and stronger. And as we saw with the failure of that mission inside Yemen, we can’t simply let them grow and expect that special ops are going to be able to hold them at bay. We should have a policy of trying to stop that civil war rather than inflaming it, and that’s been my recommendation over two administrations.
MURPHY: I ultimately think that U.S. military support prolongs this conflict. I would argue that we should pull U.S. military support, that we should step back and focus our efforts on humanitarian assistance, on rescuing people by increasing the flow of refugees into this country, continue to pursue a political and diplomatic path, but I don’t see that there is any U.S.-led military solution to what’s happening on the ground there. If we stepped back, it may be that the pro-Assad forces would move faster. I think we can continue to use counterterrorism and bombing efforts to strike at ISIS, but our support on the ground has not helped. We should withdraw it and we should—and we should focus on humanitarian needs.
HOHMANN: Did Tulsi Gabbard make a mistake by going to Syria and meeting with Assad?
MURPHY: I don’t think there’s anything good that comes from members of the United States Congress sitting down with a brutal, murderous dictator like that.
On Trump’s taxes:
HOHMANN: Obviously he never released his returns. There’s very little disclosure requirements for the president. Where does that stand on the list of priorities? Is there anything you all can do to draw him out on that, other than just talk about it a lot?
MURPHY: Well, the underlying question is simple: is Donald Trump compromised in his relationship with Russia? Is he compromised because Russians have major investments in him that he is trying to hide? Is he compromised because Russians have some compromising information on him, relevant to other things he has done? And there are two investigations happening right now in the House and the Senate Intelligence Committee that are trying to find the answers to those two questions.
Obviously with respect to financial conflicts, he could clear it up immediately by releasing his tax returns. Ron Wyden and I have a piece of legislation that would require presidents and presidential candidates to release their returns. Not surprisingly, we don’t have any Republican cosponsors of that.
And, listen, let’s just be honest. If Vladimir Putin were pulling the strings of this administration for one reason or another, this is likely how the script would’ve played out over the first few weeks. You would have a president making moral equivalences between Putin’s killing of journalists and U.S. military activities. You would have the hints and private commitments of sanctions withdrawal. You would have the clouding of Russian activity inside Ukraine.
I hope to God that Donald Trump is not compromised, that he doesn’t have some secret relationship with Russia which is guiding his policy. But if Putin was pulling the strings, this is likely how it would play out, which is why these investigations in the Intelligence Committee are so important.
How do Democrats win again?
MURPHY: If you ask people in Connecticut what Donald Trump stood for in this election, they could tell you pretty quickly, right? They could tell you he stands for a wall, he doesn’t want Muslims to enter the United States (and) he wants to beat the hell out of China. If I asked them what Hillary Clinton was for, they’d have a little bit harder time, right? I think this is the most important question for Democrats: what are we for and how do we clearly articulate what we’re for?
That’s a really important question when it comes to the resistance because the temptation in opposing Trump will be to oppose everything. And I think if you were clear about what you are for, it will tell you what to fight and what to let go. And so here’s my theory of the case as to what Democrats should be for: I think it’s been super confusing about Democrat’s economic messaging because half the time we talk about economic growth and half the time we talk about economic fairness.
We’ve got to make a choice. I would argue that we should be for economic growth. And economic fairness is a component of economic growth. You can’t have true economic growth if you don’t have rules of the road that allow everybody to have a chance and opportunity. But we should be talking about growing the economy and all the ways that we are going to help growth the economy.
Second, we should be a party of inclusion. We should be a party that stands for a country that accepts everybody and all of the individual fights to protect immigrants, to protect African-American voting rights, fall underneath that rubric. But I think that’s a pretty great way to frame the Democratic message.
If we just say that over and over and over again, I think that scratches a lot of voters where they itch, it allows us to filter in our messages underneath us, and it’ll tell us the things to fight. Like the Muslim ban and a big trickle-down tax cut. And it’ll, frankly, tell us the things not to fight, like Ivanka Trump and Nordstrom’s and crowd sizes. That ultimately is the key to whether Democrats take power: are we disciplined in our positive message? And are we disciplined, because of that positive message, in the things that we fight and the things that we perhaps let go?