MR. COSTA: Hello, and welcome to Washington Post Live. I’m Bob Costa, a national political reporter at The Post.
This morning, we continue our Leadership During Crisis Series, on how leaders nationwide in both parties are confronting the coronavirus pandemic.
Our guest this morning is Governor Phil Murphy of New Jersey. Governor Murphy is a Democrat, elected to his office in 2017. He previously served as U.S. Ambassador to Germany, after being nominated by President Obama, then he was confirmed by the Senate. Before that post, he had a long career in banking.
Governor Murphy, welcome.
GOV. MURPHY: Good to be with you, Bob. Thanks for having me.
MR. COSTA: Governor, case numbers are soaring in different areas of the country. Parents and others are on edge. Are case numbers this morning in New Jersey ticking up or ticking down?
GOV. MURPHY: The number of positive cases is holding steady in the sort of plus or minus 2- to 400 range.
Today, we've got a little bit better news on rate of transmission and how many of those tests are positive; so, our spot positivity rate. But we're watching this--you know, as you can imagine, every minute of every day. We're making our decisions both when we shut the state and now that we're slowly but surely reopening it based on the facts and the science. And we're watching it. Our rate of transmission started to creep up uncomfortably over the past week, and so that's a particular reason why we decided to put off indoor dining, as an example; why we've gone to face covering, not just--we were the first state to mandate it indoors. We're now mandating it outdoors. We're watching this very closely, particularly given not only what we've been through, but what other states are going through as we speak.
MR. COSTA: You have those beautiful beaches in your state. Are people following social distancing guidelines at the Jersey Shore?
GOV. MURPHY: We think, for the most part, yes. And I want to give a shoutout to the counties and the municipalities with which we have worked as we reopened our beaches. The Shore is a gem, it's a national gem. It's a huge piece of our economy.
Folks for the most part--and this has been the case, Bob from day one--for the most part, folks have been extraordinarily compliant and responsible. We've always we've had some knuckleheads, as we call them, along the way, but we haven't had many, in fairness, and the beach is no exception.
MR. COSTA: When you look at the school issue, where is your head at on that decision? Will schools in New Jersey be having in-person learning this fall?
GOV. MURPHY: As I sit here on July 10, recognizing I don't know whether or not we could have predicted where we'd be on July 10 six or eight weeks ago, the answer is, as of today, yes.
Our Commissioner of Education and Commissioner of Health combined to put out very comprehensive guidelines a couple of weeks ago. We have many school districts in our state. It's the number one public education system in America. We've asked in these districts, as we did when we closed, to put together their plans based on our guidance and parameters and come back to us as they reopen with their plans.
I think, Bob, the toughest nut that we're all going to have to deal with, not just in New Jersey, but anywhere there's in-person education, because we--the social distancing, the face covering, the hygiene, testing, everything that we know will need to be a part of this is preventing the spread of the virus from an asymptomatic healthy young person to either an older educator or administrator or parent or someone with comorbidities, that's going to be the toughest challenge, I think, not just in New Jersey, but anywhere there's school.
MR. COSTA: When you say there are comprehensive guidelines, Governor, how is that actually going to be enforced in hallways, in schools where you have cramped classrooms?
GOV. MURPHY: Well, capacity limitations is one of those guidelines. So, a cramped classroom is probably no longer going to be part of the lexicon, at least for the school year that's before us.
We ask each of the districts, the superintendent on down, to be the--not only put the plans together but execute those plans. And clearly, the Department of Education, the Department of Health can do and does spot checks around the state, and they do that regularly and meaningfully, but we're leaving it up to the local superintendents and their principals and educators and administrators to execute the plan. We have no reason to believe that they can't do that. They're outstanding professionals.
MR. COSTA: So, if those local leaders and administrators have discretion over how to enforce those guidelines and work those guidelines, who will have discretion in terms of shutting down schools, if necessary? Is that still in your hands as governor or is that a local decision?
GOV. MURPHY: It's really both. I mean, when we shut schools in March, many of the school districts--with our blessing, by the way--had already submitted their plans of closure before we made the statewide decision to shut down completely. We wanted to get that decision right. We have to remember there's an enormous--while there's a huge public health reality that we're talking about, there's also a lot of kids in our state who rely on schools for their only hot meal for the day. There are a lot of kids in the state who don't have access yet to a device or Internet access. And so, that had to be part of the plans as we shut, to give two examples. And as long as we can be responsible on the public health front, they're also a part--in addition to the education and the richness of that experience, that's also a factor in terms of the plans to reopen.
MR. COSTA: Governor, I want to come back to that term that you just used, "knuckleheads," to describe people who aren't following the guidelines in the Garden State.
You signed this Executive Order this week having mandatory face coverings outside in public areas in New Jersey. How strict is enforcement going to be? There are--there's possible jailtime, fines on the horizon if you don't follow this Executive Order, but how will you--how tough will you be in enforcing it?
GOV. MURPHY: So, Bob, this is one of the reasons why we would not have done this earlier. There's really two reasons, and the most important one is the virus, based on all the evidence, is a lot less lethal outdoors than it is indoors, and that's a fact and that's something that's underpinned a lot of the decisions and the sequencing of our decisions.
The other reason is it's darn hard to enforce. And so, it's mandatory when social distancing is not practicable. So, if you're out with your husband or wife, or by yourself running or walking in the neighborhood or walking your dog, that's not what we're after. What we're after is on a crowded boardwalk, when you're with other folks who are strangers or not part of your family, you're waiting in line for a slice of pizza, you're congregating, that's where folks are going to get attention. They're going to be warned and most likely--this is going to be up to local law enforcement, obviously, but I would suspect that the sequence is, first, a warning and then a summons of some kind.
We would not put this in place if we didn't mean business but, as you rightfully point out, this is probably, of all the steps we've taken, this is the hardest to enforce. We're really relying on personal responsibility. We've got a good reason to do that, as I mentioned earlier, in New Jersey, because from moment one folks have been overwhelmingly responsible and compliant, and we need them to continue to be.
MR. COSTA: When you say local law enforcement will be able to make a lot of these decisions, are some of them pushing back against this EO and saying, "We have other crimes to pursue. We can't really enforce this at this moment," or are they eager to enforce it?
GOV. MURPHY: I'm not sure I'd say eager to enforce it, but we haven't had pushback. Folks, including in law enforcement, understand that this virus is lethal, it's a killer, and that we have no therapeutics, we have no vaccine--and God willing we get both sooner than later. But the only things we've got at our disposal are social distancing, face coverings, washing hands with soap and water, staying away from people if you don't feel well, get tested. We built from nothing to one of the highest per capita testing capacities in the nation. Folks get that, including law enforcement. And again, God willing, we'll see the responsible behavior by our residents and this will be less of an issue.
MR. COSTA: Some of your Republican critics in Trenton, they're hitting back at you. Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi, a Republican, for example, said you're acting like, quote, "An exalted ruler" with this Executive Order. What's your response?
GOV. MURPHY: I don't pay much attention to that. Those are people trying to score political points. Why would I take joy in making people cover their face, if it weren't to save lives? And that's what we're trying to do. We're making our decisions based on the facts, on science, and I literally don't pay any attention to personal--political or personal points that people are trying to make. We have no time for that. This thing has killed over 13,000 people in New Jersey, and I don't want it to kill anyone else.
MR. COSTA: When we were talking about schools, you talked about how you may need to have some new things in classrooms, dividers, different things to help teachers and administrators, which brings us to the issue of Congress and stimulus and state aid.
How much does New Jersey need in direct state aid if there's another round of stimulus?
GOV. MURPHY: Short answer is $20 billion, between mid this year and the end of next year. We've had, like every state that's had to deal with this--and now, unfortunately, you're seeing states of all shapes and sizes, political stripes, expenses are going through the roof to deal with this and revenues have fallen off a cliff.
We just signed a short-term budget for only a three-plus month period. We had to cut or defer $5.2 billion worth of expenditures. And these are pro--you know, this is to keep--this is not some nice-to-have stuff, either. This is essential programs in our state, and so that's the number that we believe is the number for New Jersey, and that's to allow us to keep firefighters, police, educators, health care workers, EMS folks in their positions and serving our residents in our hour of need. But it's a big number, and we need it sooner than later.
MR. COSTA: And in the meantime, Governor, you're asking your Cabinet to seek 15-percent cuts across the board. Could that number, that percentage increase in the coming months if there's not another round of stimulus?
GOV. MURPHY: Yes, unfortunately, and 15 percent is an enormous bite out of any of these departmental budgets. Yes, the number could go up if either we don't get the federal cash or, sadly, and please, God, I hope this isn't the case, that the virus reignites.
You know, right now we're only as strong as the weakest link in the country right now, and so this virus--the notion that you could bat 1.000 inside of your own state and get everything right and still have the virus flare up is a reality, sadly. So, yes, the number could go up for either of those reasons.
MR. COSTA: You've also talked about, Governor, quote "revenue raisers." And as someone who covers Congress, they could take their time in coming up with another round of stimulus. When you talk about revenue raisers, the real question is are you prepared to raise taxes to try to fill this revenue shortfall?
GOV. MURPHY: Bob, I think everything's got to be on the table. We need our legislature to give us the right to borrow from the Fed program, which is something that gives me no joy but we have no other choice. We need the federal cash and we're likely going to need revenue raisers. And so, the answer has to be everything's on the table, but there's no amount of revenue that we can raise that comes close to the hole that we've got at the moment. So, it can't be in lieu of either borrowing or federal cash. It's an element in the program to deal with this, but it can't be the only element.
MR. COSTA: In terms of revenue raisers, you say everything's on the table, but what is actually on the table? Would it be an increase in tolls, something else?
GOV. MURPHY: Yeah, the highway reality is a separate one. Too early to tell, Bob, too early to tell. But there's--this is not specific to the pandemic, but the pandemic has exposed enormous inequities in our state.
I got elected, as you mentioned, in 2017, and I got elected on the concept that we need to build a stronger and fairer New Jersey that works not just for some but for everybody. We've made a lot of progress. We still have a long way to go. So, the notion of some targeted revenue raisers that can help us accelerate the closing of the gaps that we inherited in the state, particularly along racial and socioeconomic lines, those would--for me, at least, it's too early to tell, but those are the most appealing.
MR. COSTA: You're right: This pandemic has hit black communities and other communities of color very hard, and The Washington Post has done a lot of reporting on that.
Anyone who travels to New Jersey notices that there are many small towns in New Jersey that have their own police force. Have you thought about moving forward in this racial reckoning in America to try to consolidate some of these small-town police forces in New Jersey?
GOV. MURPHY: Yes, listen, home rule is both our greatest strength and our greatest challenge in New Jersey. We're the ultimate home rule state, and that extends well beyond law enforcement. That's law enforcement--it's law enforcement, it's education--I think I--you still there, Bob?
MR. COSTA: I'm here.
GOV. MURPHY: Okay, I lost your shot, there.
MR. COSTA: We're having a little bit of a technical difficulty, here, but we'll get this going in a second. We're all doing our best amid this pandemic; not easy.
You may have heard a sound earlier in this interview. It was my mailman putting in some mail through the door. So, we're all deal with working from home as best we can.
Governor, are you still with us?
MR. COSTA: The program will begin again shortly. We'll get Governor Murphy back, just give us a moment. Thanks for your patience, I appreciate it.
MR. COSTA: All right, let's--we're back with Governor Murphy. Appreciate your patience, Governor Murphy, all doing our best. We only have a couple minutes left.
GOV. MURPHY: [Audio distortion], Bob. I appreciate your taking one for the team.
MR. COSTA: No, it's--I thought maybe you were trying to escape some questions about President Trump, technical difficulties, but I'm glad to your back. So, let's--we only have a few minutes left, here.
GOV. MURPHY: [Audio distortion]--just kidding.
MR. COSTA: Okay, I understood.
Let's talk about President Trump. What is your level of communication with him at this moment? He seemed to be consulting you and governors a lot early on. Is that still the case?
GOV. MURPHY: We haven't had as much direct person-to-person contact in the past couple of weeks, but I don't ascribe that to anything other than the fires are raging elsewhere, and the fires here, while they're still going on, are meaningfully better. But we are in touch regularly with the White House at the most senior levels, including the president, vice president, and senior advisors.
And when the fire was raging the highest here, we were able to find--and I will continue to be grateful for that, forever and always--we were able to find common ground on things like ventilators, bed capacity, testing, personal protective equipment, et cetera.
MR. COSTA: Are you disappointed that he's less engaged with you and other governors at this time?
GOV. MURPHY: I can't speak for other governors. I have no reason to believe that he's not engaged with the governors where the virus is raging. No, I'm not disappointed.
I do think--and I've said this publicly, I do think a national strategy here on things like face coverings would really help, and I hope we get to that. This isn't political. You mentioned some silly political shots that are being fired in New Jersey. You see those around the country. It isn't political. It's based on science; it's based on the virus and how it works; and it's based on saving lives. And I would love to see the current system where--I mentioned you're only as strong as your weakest link, I'd like to see that transformed into a national reality on certain principles that we all are adhering to.
MR. COSTA: Should the president wear a mask or a face covering more often?
GOV. MURPHY: Listen, I think everybody should. Now, I'm not wearing it right now and I can't speak for it--since the president is making a speech. I myself am a big mask guy, but I take it off for that. But I think if you're going to be in a situation where you can't social distance inside or outside, I think we should all be wearing face coverings.
MR. COSTA: What do you make of Dr. Anthony Fauci saying he has not briefed the president since June, early June. What does that tell you about the state of the federal response?
GOV. MURPHY: Listen, I don't have any insight into that, other than he has been terrific as a general role model, but also in private exchanges with us. He's been great. We've had very good, consistent lines of communication to folks like him and Deborah Birx and Admiral Brett Giroir and Alex Azar and others on that team.
This is a time for science to be the basis upon which we make our decisions, and I view him as an extraordinary role model in that regard.
MR. COSTA: What's your plan for the quarantine policy in New Jersey for states around that have seen a spike in cases? Is that going to be extended at all this summer?
GOV. MURPHY: Yes, for the foreseeable future, unfortunately. So, New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey, a couple of--I guess ten days or two weeks ago, at this point, we put out a joint statement that if you're coming back from a hotspot state or you're coming--visiting from a hotspot state, we need you to self-quarantine and get tested.
We're the United States of America. I never thought I'd say this, but in a perfect world I'd be building a wall around the place right now, but we can't do--you can't prohibit folks from traveling from one state to another. So, this is another one where we're asking for personal responsibility. It's going to be a heavy dose of testing and contact tracing. We've got a community corps of tracers that we're building by the day.
And we've already had some--we've already had some examples of this, so, this is not abstract. We had a couple of families go to a wedding in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. They came back and tested positive. We had some flare-ups from other states in Hoboken and we were--in each case, we were able to trace those down and track them down. And again, it's another item on the list of overwhelming personal responsibility in terms of the behavior of folks.
MR. COSTA: Governor, are you going to go to the Democratic National Convention?
GOV. MURPHY: At the moment, I am not. I believe this is going to be a combination, as far as I understand it, from the DNC--a combination of modest amount of in-person activities, I guess in Milwaukee and then the rest around the country.
At the moment, not. I am the Chair of the Democratic Governors Association and, in a normal convention, I would have addressed the convention. So, it's possible I'll do that remote. But at the moment, I wouldn't say heck no, but at the moment I've got no plans to be there.
MR. COSTA: What should the presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden have as his message when he speaks to the country this summer in Milwaukee? What does he need to say to elect the country to elect him and to maybe have a higher profile amid this pandemic and President Trump?
GOV. MURPHY: I mean, it's an extraordinary--the question on profile is another casualty of this pandemic. It's an election unlike any we've ever seen before.
We just held our primary earlier this week. We had a hybrid election, both a lot of vote by mail and some scaled down in-person voting, and it feels like it worked well.
I think, listen, I've known the vice president a long time. I'm a big fan. He's an American hero in so many respects. I think he's got to present himself. I mean, his life story speaks to what informs his policies, what he stands for.
I think as it relates to the pandemic discussion we're having, I think he's got to reiterate that he's going to make decisions based on the facts and based on the science, because I think that's what we need right now as a nation, and I know that he believes that.
And like any--while it's incredibly unusual, some things never change, and his presentation of his candidacy has to include his vision for our country going forward, both in our--not just the pandemic, but our economy and social justice, our presence in the world and our, you know, foreign policy beliefs. I think he's got to lay that out, and "This is who I am and this is what I stand for."
MR. COSTA: Just final question, here, based on your own experience, would you like to see a real affirmation of NATO in the U.S.-European relationship from Vice President Biden?
GOV. MURPHY: I would. I mean, our think our transatlantic relations continue to be--we've got a lot of really good relationships around the world, but the transatlantic bridge is the bulwark for the past 75 years. And it's not just NATO, but it certainly is NATO. It is our bilateral relations. As you mentioned earlier, I was the U.S. Ambassador to Germany. We have no better ally in the world than Germany. I think it's our military presence. I think it's our relationship with the European Union. I think the stronger those relations are, the stronger the global community is. And that's not just a nice thing to stand for, that's all of the above is in the cold-blooded interests of the United States of America.
MR. COSTA: Well, Governor, I know that's all the time we have this morning. Hope you come back to Washington Post Live at some point. Appreciate your time very much.
GOV. MURPHY: Bob, great being with you and thank you so much for having me, and I'd be delighted to come back.
MR. COSTA: Thank you.
And thank you all for joining us here at Washington Post Live and having patience like the governor, and all of us, really these days as we deal with working from home and Skype connections. But we had a good conversation and we'll keep having good conversations.
If you're still with us, joining us on Monday at 1:00 Eastern, my colleague, Jonathan Capehart, who's done some terrific interviews, he will interview New Mexico's Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham.
And on Tuesday at 3:30 Eastern in the afternoon, Jonathan will host Susan Rice, the former national security advisor, who's also in the mix to be Vice President Biden's running mate. He'll talk to Dr. Rice.
So, you can go to WashingtonPostLive.com to register for those livestreams and find out more information about those programs and others.
I'm Bob Costa. Have a good day.
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