WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a member of the U.S Senate Foreign Relations Committee and U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee, joined Crooked Media’s Pod Save the World this week with Tommy Veitor to discuss the latest on the economic relief packages in Congress and the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
On the severe mishandling of testing coronavirus, Murphy said: “[T]esting is still an abomination. And that is, in large part because the administration still hasn't taken the necessary steps to increase capacity of public and private labs. And so, I understand the desire for a lot of my colleagues to get home. But I also think that we're likely going to need to be legislating on a weekly basis or at least staying on top of this administration from Washington.”
On the Trump administration’s rejection of international coordination to fight coronavirus, Murphy said: “This is…the chickens coming home to roost. When you know you pursue an America first strategy, when you see
a good relations with the rest of the world as a sign of personal and national weakness—you are unfortunately incredibly vulnerable when a moment comes that requires international cooperation that requires the goodwill afforded to you by friends and allies.”
Continuing on the administration’s rejection of international coordination, specifically with the World Health Organization’s test, Murphy added: “And then the disdain from this administration towards multinational institutions also was predictive of the fact that we decided not to use the WHO test despite the fact that that test was easily replicable. It could be easily mass manufactured. But we chose not to use it and develop our own I think in part because there was just perceived weakness in being part of any international organization or association.”
On fixing the budget to deal with global health pandemics in the future, Murphy said: “How do we learn from the global failures? It is time for us to sort of sit down and think, you know, wait a second, does it make sense to have a $2 billion global health budget and a $750 billion military budget? Does it really feel like that's the right ratio? No, of course not. We're going to have to have some real proposals to rebuild that and I'll try to help lead.”
On massive cash assistance programs to help those in need, Murphy said: “I've been amongst those pushing my party to get serious about some pretty massive big cash assistance. You know, payroll tax cuts are not the way to go. I'd like to see immediate money in the hands of workers. And so I've been working through some of those proposals and hope to be able to vote on them in the coming days and weeks.”
On solving problems in Connecticut, Murphy said: “I'm just keeping in close touch with folks in Connecticut and trying to solve little problems, right? We had a hospital that didn't have enough swabs to do the test. So I'm trying to solve that. We're having trouble getting volunteers to show up to food banks which are shutting down—not because they don't have enough food, but because people just don't want to be in public serving the food we're trying to solve that.”
A full transcript of Murphy’s interview can be found below:
HOST, TOMMY VIETOR: “We are thrilled to be joined in our social isolation, near quarantined studio here by Senator Chris Murphy from Washington, D.C. Senator, thanks again for coming on the show.”
MURPHY: “Yeah, thanks a lot for having me. And thanks for what you guys are doing.”
HOST: “Well, yeah. You know, sitting alone in a room about 10 feet away from Ben is what I'm doing currently. So, Senator the House has now passed two versions of a bipartisan coronavirus response bill that provides some expanded sick leave, food assistance, testing coverage and unemployment insurance, but the Senate hasn't taken up the bill. Can you talk about why there's been a holdup and what the Senate's role has been in the negotiation of that package?”
MURPHY: “Well, it's really unconscionable that the Senate hasn't voted on it. We're talking right now on Monday afternoon and we still don't have any scheduled vote and we may not vote until Tuesday.
“And, you know, why that's important is that there are moms and dads making decisions as we speak about whether they're going to go to work tomorrow. They may have a cough, they may have the beginning of a fever, but they also can't go a week without a paycheck. And so without knowledge that they're going to have some protection, they may end up going to work. And of course, that's dangerous for all of us. And then you got all these kids who are home. And parents are leaving them alone or in unsafe situations—again, because they don't have this protection to stay home with their child knowing that they are still going to get paid.
“Now, the bill coming out of the House is a really partial fix. It's paid sick leave but only for a handful of the population. And so we have to do better than that. But as you also know, you know, this idea of helping workers stay home when they're sick is deeply modern Republican orthodoxy. And so it's very hard for many of my Republican colleagues to get their head wrapped around the fact that they're going to vote for a bill that's going to provide any kind of paid sick or family leave assistance to families. And so we're still sitting here trying to get agreement on how we're going to do this vote. And meanwhile, families are really panicking at home not knowing whether they can afford to not go to work tomorrow or whether they should just risk giving whatever early signs of the virus they have to their co-workers.”
HOST: “Yeah. I mean Senator, I know you are rushing to pass this bill as soon as you can. But what will Congress do if you guys go home and the entire country is then asked to shelter in place. What provisions are there for continuity of government for the Senate or for Congress generally?”
MURPHY: “Well, I mean, that's a real time debate that's happening, you know, both publicly, but, you know, more so privately amongst members of the Senate. You know, what is our obligation right now? Should we be here in Washington? Should we be home setting an example, sheltering in our communities?
“I will say this: I worry about leaving Washington. I worry about not having any ability to monitor in real time and provide in person pushback to what the administration is doing. If we had a normal administration that has this under some modicum of control, maybe we could all leave town. But I think we are going to need to be here, at least some of us, in order to, you know, keep the pressure on.
“Social distancing is moving in the right direction. The CDC has started to take stronger measures and make stronger recommendations. But testing is still an abomination. And that is, in large part because the administration still hasn't taken the necessary steps to increase capacity of public and private labs.
“And so, I understand the desire for a lot of my colleagues to get home. But I also think that we're likely going to need to be legislating on a weekly basis or at least staying on top of this administration from Washington. It's just a lot harder to do oversight from back in your states. And I just think we have a very unique obligation.”
HOST: “Okay. Well, look, Senator, you mentioned testing. And one of the things I think, it's been so frustrating is to watch countries like Germany and South Korea, that have had so much more success in containing this, in part because their ability to deploy tests. But that also leads to this question that hasn't got a lot of attention, which is, there's a lot of focus on the patchwork response at home between state and local governments because of the absence of a national direction or baseline. I'm struck having lived through Ebola at the total absence of any international coordination here. Normally, you would try to be harmonizing approaches across borders. Normally, you know, in the instance of Ebola, the U.S. organized a UN meeting of over 40 countries. Took kind of control of the apparatus of the World Health Organization and other international resources. And I'm just wondering, given your purview from the Foreign Relations Committee and your interest in the foreign policy aspects of American leadership, what are you hearing from other governments or is there any international coordination taking place out of the State Department, out of the White House? Why does this feel like there's nobody even paying attention to that part of this?”
MURPHY: “Yeah, well, I mean, this is, you know, the chickens coming home to roost. When you know you pursue an America first strategy, when you see good relations with the rest of the world as a sign of personal and national weakness—you are unfortunately incredibly vulnerable when a moment comes that requires international cooperation that requires the goodwill afforded to you by friends and allies.”
“We have all been worried about the myopic nature of this administration's relationship with China. They appear to only be able to talk to China about one thing, and that is trade. And that conversation is a totally dysfunctional and unhelpful one. But it also has meant that we don't have room for other conversations. And so it wasn't surprising that China shut down on us in those early days and weeks, robbing us of really important information about how the disease spread. You know, we have been at cross purposes with South Korea for much of the last several years, not on the same page when it comes to the approach towards North Korea. And that probably has something to do with the fact that we were not sharing technology early on as they were developing a test that we could have used.
“And then the disdain from this administration towards multinational institutions also was predictive of the fact that we decided not to use the WHO test despite the fact that that test was easily replicable. It could be easily mass manufactured. But we chose not to use it and develop our own I think in part because there was just perceived weakness in being part of any international organization or association. So it is not surprising that we are where we are today. But had we made different decisions, to have a more functional relationship with China, to have a more cooperative relationship with the Koreans, and to be able to accept international technology rather than reject it—we could have been in a fundamentally different place today.”
HOST: “And if you're looking at it at the fact that the world could be dealing with several months of both a pandemic and the fallout from that, which will obviously hit differently different places, and perhaps a global recession, perhaps on the order of the financial crisis, what do you think the kind of international coordination that is required if you're trying to deal with this effectively? You know, are you thinking about, you know, in the financial crisis, we obviously had to kind of coordinate stimulus with other countries? I mean, how should a normal response think about what we're heading into for the next six months to a year here?”
MURPHY: “Well, at the very least, you want to be coordinating on a transatlantic basis. You want to be having a conversation with the EU and European nations about how to right-size stimulus policies. And again, that is just not something that is going to happen under this administration.
“It was just wild to watch the president announced an outright travel ban with Europe and have the Europeans learning about it as he was making the speech. You know, that's a sign of dysfunction our relationship, but a warning sign about how difficult it is going to be to coordinate with them in the future.
“And then we also have to have a broader conversation about how we're going to stand up capacities in the short term that we don't have today. We're going to have some shortages of medical supplies—we already have them. And we really can't answer that on our own. We're going to have to work through that with the Europeans. For instance, the reagents that are used in the tests are mainly made in Europe. And so, we can't, you know, produce enough domestically in order to fill our supply. We're going to need to have a joint conversation with them. One that, you know, would've easily happened under the Obama administration. Really hard to figure out how it happens when, you know, our former ambassador to the EU who is no longer there, said that his job upon arriving in Brussels was to destroy the European Union.”
HOST: “That seems bad in hindsight. Senator, I mean, I'm struggling with the responsibility gene that exists inside every Democrat that believes you know, government should function, it should provide services and solve problems for the American people, with feeling like Trump presents a grave health risk to the American people. I mean, he is still proposing a 2021 budget cut to Health and Human Services by I think $9.5 billion. That includes a 15% cut to the CDC. And he's telling us to relax. He just, you know, he's been lying about the availability of testing, he's suggested sick people could go to work, he's modeling bad behavior.
“So I'm struggling with wanting this problem solved and wanting to do whatever I can as a Democrat to get there, but also wanting to make clear how much he has exacerbated the problem and created a crisis in this country. And I'm wondering, if you figured out a way to do that.”
MURPHY: “Well just stop struggling. Like don't struggle. It's not to me, I mean, I guess to me it's not a question of choosing one or the other. I frankly think it's my civic responsibility to point out what a miserable failure this administration's response has been. I think it's my duty as a United States Senator to argue that the President of the United States shouldn't speak because he makes the problem worse when he does.
“And so I really worry about us being told that criticisms of the president, criticisms of the way in which he has botched this response from day one are political by nature. Well, maybe they are political, but their political in the vein of trying to pressure him to do better. And if we all just pretend like the president has done a wonderful job, and we censor ourselves because we're worried about looking political or campaigning, then there's no pressure on the president or the people who work for him to do better, to be better, to get more tests out in the field, to start cooperating with all the people that we mentioned that need to be in the room with us. So I do both.
“I mean, I'm working on bipartisan legislation with a whole bunch of my friends in the Senate to try to make this situation better. But I'm also on a daily basis savaging the president's response because I think that's the only way to try to make sure that they change and do better for all of us.”
HOST: “Yeah, I mean, I guess, you know, one other question for you just because people are wondering: how are you dealing with this personally? How are your kids? How is your family?
“I mean, you're someone in a position of authority, who probably has better information than we do, who can actually feel like your day to day actions are actually making things better. And not just screaming at cable news like I am or Twitter, but, you know, how are you managing through this thing?”
MURPHY: “Yeah, and you know, I've got young kids. There aren't many of us in the Senate who are in that category. I've got elementary school age kids, so they are their home. And since we were talking on the phone, one of them peeks his head through the door. And so I'm managing, you know, a two parent family and both of us are trying to take care of our kids who are home from schools that are canceled while trying to manage this national conversation. And so yeah, I do feel empowered that you know, I have a role to play in all of that. And I'm, you know, trying to find the avenues by which I can be helpful.
“I mean, one of the things I'm going to be thinking a lot about is right up both of your lanes. How do we learn from the global failures? It is time for us to sort of sit down and think, you know, wait a second, does it make sense to have a $2 billion global health budget and a $750 billion military budget? Does it really feel like that's the right ratio? No, of course not. We're going to have to have some real proposals to rebuild that and I'll try to help lead.
“And then the last 24 hours, I've been amongst those pushing my party to get serious about some pretty massive big cash assistance. You know, payroll tax cuts are not the way to go. I'd like to see immediate money in the hands of workers. And so I've been working through some of those proposals and hope to be able to vote on them in the coming days and weeks.
“And then I'm just keeping in close touch with folks in Connecticut and trying to solve little problems, right? We had a hospital that didn't have enough swabs to do the test. So I'm trying to solve that. We're having trouble getting volunteers to show up to food banks which are shutting down—not because they don't have enough food, but because people just don't want to be in public serving the food we're trying to solve that. Trying to manage the national and the local conversation, while also trying to make sure that my kids don't go absolutely stir crazy.”
HOST: “Yeah, I feel that. My two daughters I think are going to learn Spanish from the amount of Dora the Explorer they're watching. We're busting though our screentime, Senator.”
MURPHY: “I would say it is amazing how I can, there's all sorts of things on YouTube, but as long as they have like a three or two minutes science content attached to them, I have deemed them educational.”
HOST: “Man. Well, Senator, thank you so much for all the work you're doing and for joining the show. We really appreciate it.”