It wasn’t the ideal border bill—even for Chris Murphy, its lead Democratic negotiator. It didn’t provide a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, for instance, and Democrats gave more to Republicans than they got from it. But to the senator from Connecticut, it was the best compromise either side was going to reach, so he is appalled that Donald Trump and his allies in the GOP-held House killed it. “If Republicans couldn’t accept this deal on immigration,” he told me, “there’s no deal they’re going to accept.”

In a conversation with Vanity Fair, edited for clarity and length, Murphy talked about Republicans’ bad-faith approach on the immigration issue, the stakes for American foreign policy in this November’s election, and why he thinks Democrats need to make border security a bigger priority. “Most people in America think that we should have legal immigration but believe that our border is out of control,” Murphy said. “But they look at a political structure in which one side wants to totally shut down…and the other side sometimes doesn’t seem to care much about the border.”

Vanity Fair: Do you get the sense that, when you’re negotiating with Republicans, you’re defining the “crisis” in the same way? Or does it seem like you’re talking about different things?

Chris Murphy: It’s not an easy answer. It’s true that Republicans largely view the crisis as simply having to do with too many people coming into the country, whereas Democrats have viewed the issue of immigration more through the prism of the impact on the individuals who are coming. But increasingly, my party does view what is happening at the border as unsustainable. And I will say, one of my critiques of the party has been that we have sometimes exclusively focused on immigration through the lens of those that are here instead of also focusing on creating a secure border. We can do both at the same time. We can care deeply about and try to improve the lives of migrants but also make clear that the current state of the border is unacceptable.

It’s probably understating it to say that you’ve been frustrated at the way Republicans tanked this bill. I’m wondering how you now view the potential for working across the aisle. When we’ve talked before, you’ve expressed confidence in the potential for bipartisanship on specific issues, even with some pretty right or even pro-Trump figures. But when you look at how much bad faith there was, even around this kind of policy they say they want, what kind of hope is there for other stuff?

There are two answers to that question. I think I’ve come to the conclusion that Republicans are always going to approach the issue of immigration with bad faith. Their head may tell them they want to compromise, but their hearts are allergic to solving the problem. Republicans are deeply fearful of a day in which they can’t exploit the border as a crisis, and they are never going to take steps to let that day arrive. So maybe I was naive. Maybe I should have known this from the start. But I’ve come to the conclusion that if Republicans couldn’t accept this deal on immigration, there’s no deal they’re going to accept. But I have not given up on bipartisanship writ large. I think between now and the election, it’s pretty clear Republicans are going to fold into the Trump political operation, and the Trump political operation is not going to support any big bipartisan compromise with Democrats. So I think, unfortunately, not many big bipartisan moments are coming in the next six-to-eight months. But I still believe that this place can build compromise. And I still believe there are just enough Republicans in the Senate interested in doing deals.

When you talk about not a lot of bipartisan compromises coming, does that include foreign aid? You’ve indicated some confidence that that can be passed on its own, but that would seem as vulnerable, if not more so, given the House GOP position on Ukraine, for example.

Our only choice in the Senate is to pass this bill with a big bipartisan vote. And hopefully, if this passes, we’ll get 70 votes, and it will send a really important signal. (Note: After we spoke, the foreign aid package passed 70-29 in the Senate. It faces more uncertainty in the House, though Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries has expressed confidence that he could get it through.) But I can’t control what happens in the House, and I can’t control what happens inside the MAGA movement. Once Trump turned his sights on the immigration deal, it was dead. My worry is that Trump and his movement are going to increase their attacks on aid for Ukraine, and the same thing that happened on the immigration deal will happen on Ukraine. So I’m definitely worried that Trump is making it increasingly clear: He wants Putin to win this war, and he’s going to instruct his movement to act accordingly.


I’m sure you saw at a rally last weekend he was openly encouraging attacks on NATO. Talk a little about the stakes for November when you have Trump exerting his influence in the direction that he is.

Trump has openly advertised himself as an autocrat in waiting, right? He has contempt for democracy. He has affection for dictators. And it’s pretty clear that whatever constraints existed on him in his first term will not exist in his second. In his second term, our democracy will be at risk right from the start. And he will embrace other dictators like Putin in an unbridled, enthusiastic way. I don’t think that’s hyperbole. He is very clearly signaling the direction he’s going in. There will be no Mattises, no Tillersons—there won’t even be a Sessions in his next administration. His next administration’s foreign policy infrastructure will be populated by sycophants. And that will have devastating consequences for the US position in the world.

Almost 10 years into the Trump era, are you surprised at how much appetite there still seems to be for that? We’re talking about all this dysfunction on the GOP side. We’re talking not only about Trump’s authoritarian impulses, but 91 felony charges—all this stuff. And yet, we’re looking ahead at what is pretty likely to be a close election later this year. What do you make of all that?

I continue to believe there is a deep dissatisfaction with the status quo in this country that Trump continues to be able to plug into. Folks are in a revolutionary mood. They do not believe that the current economic and cultural order benefits them. They want something radically different. In the middle of the pandemic, in 2020, they had second thoughts about that. But the pandemic didn’t erase peoples’ revolutionary mood. And our politics is going to have to acknowledge that.

What are your thoughts on how to address that? The disillusionment has been consistent since we last spoke, but it’s playing out against a different backdrop with the election. Have your ideas crystallized more or changed in any way?

They’ve certainly crystallized for me. I was drawn to work on the issue of immigration, in part because it seems to be one of those issues in which there is much more consensus out in the country that is not reflected in the political dialogue. Most people in America think that we should have legal immigration but believe that our border is out of control. They believe those things, but they look at a political structure in which one side wants to totally shut down—one side seems enthusiastic about shutting down legal immigration—and the other side sometimes doesn’t seem to care much about the border. And so I am seeking a realignment of American politics in which the big middle has a place to go. And on the issue of immigration, there weren’t a lot of folks speaking to them. Unfortunately, the result of our work was to produce a bill that I do think speaks to that big middle but ultimately couldn’t break through the current political paradigm. But I’m going to continue to work to line up our debates in Washington in a way that actually matches with the big frustrated group of Americans who are not plugged into the right or the left.