The Hill Interview: Murphy says Dem disunity ‘overhyped’

The Hill Interview: Murphy says Dem disunity ‘overhyped’
© Camille Fine

Differences within the Democratic Party between the liberal grass roots and D.C. establishment are overblown, Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyAvalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign Senate passes tax overhaul, securing major GOP victory Dem senator compares GOP tax bill to unicorns, Tupac conspiracy theories MORE (D-Conn.) told The Hill in an interview.

“It’s largely overhyped,” said Murphy, a rising Democratic star who is seen by some as a potential presidential candidate in 2020, though he insists he’s not running.

Murphy argues that President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Democrat slams Donald Trump Jr. for ‘serious case of amnesia’ after testimony Skier Lindsey Vonn: I don’t want to represent Trump at Olympics Poll: 4 in 10 Republicans think senior Trump advisers had improper dealings with Russia MORE has unified the Democratic party more than anyone expected, bridging over differences that burst to the surface during the 2016 primary battle between eventual party nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGrassley blasts Democrats over unwillingness to probe Clinton GOP lawmakers cite new allegations of political bias in FBI Top intel Dem: Trump Jr. refused to answer questions about Trump Tower discussions with father MORE and Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersSchumer: Franken should resign Franken resignation could upend Minnesota races Avalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign MORE (I-Vt.).

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“I’ve never seen our caucus more unified than it is today,” he told The Hill in an interview from his office in the Hart Senate Office Building.

“I’m sure there are places in which [Sens.] Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinTrump rips Dems a day ahead of key White House meeting Senate panel moves forward with bill to roll back Dodd-Frank Wealthy outsiders threaten to shake up GOP Senate primaries MORE [W.Va.] and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenOvernight Regulation: Net neutrality supporters predict tough court battle | Watchdog to investigate EPA chief's meeting with industry group | Ex-Volkswagen exec gets 7 years for emissions cheating Overnight Tech: Net neutrality supporters predict tough court fight | Warren backs bid to block AT&T, Time Warner merger | NC county refuses to pay ransom to hackers Avalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign MORE [Mass.] are going to land in different places, but Donald Trump has done a wonderful job of unifying the Democratic caucus in the House and the Senate.”

Murphy acknowledged disagreements over issues such as a single-payer health-care system or tax cuts, but said they pale in comparison to the desire among all Democrats to oppose Trump.

He also notes that disagreements within the Republican Party, which routinely surfaced while Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaPatagonia files suit against Trump cuts to Utah monuments Former Dem Tenn. gov to launch Senate bid: report Eighth Franken accuser comes forward as Dems call for resignation MORE was president, did not prevent the party from making a huge comeback.

“The Republicans appeared from the outside to be totally dysfunctional for ten years as the Tea Party was banging up against the establishment wing of the party, yet during that period of time they won everything,” Murphy said.

“And so I think we’re a pretty unified party today, but if we were to become less unified, there’s nothing in the last ten years that tells us that that will lead to us losing seats,” he said. “If we have energy, even if it’s slightly contradictory energy, that will end up with more of our folks turning out to the polls.”

Murphy is trying to harness that grass-roots energy into political gains through a new project financed through his Senate campaign account: Fight Back Connecticut.

The effort has hosted more than 1,500 people at 80 house parties and trained 170 volunteer leaders and captains across the state, according to Murphy.

“Every weekend we have volunteers going out and doing education on the Trump agenda to people in Connecticut,” he said.

Murphy is up for reelection in 2018 and his campaign reported $5 million in receipts during the first six months of this year, according to the Federal Election Commission. He ended June with $5.17 million cash on hand.

Murphy, 44, is framing himself as someone who can straddle the liberal populist and more practical centrist camps in the Democratic Party.

On the single-payer issue, for example, Murphy is seeking to find a compromise.

Murphy wants to make Medicare open to everyone, but have people pay a premium in order to join the popular program and receive its benefits.

“Bernie and I are in the same place in terms of the end goal, it’s just a matter of how you get there,” Murphy said.

“I think [Sanders’s] bill is very important and represents a North Star for many of us in the party,” Murphy said. “I fundamentally don’t think [our plans] are in competition, I think that they can co-exist.”

On guns, Murphy is focused on expanding background checks, which polls strongly with democratic, republican and independent voters alike, instead of more divisive issues the party pushed in 2013 such as proposed bans on military assault-style rifles and high-capacity ammunition magazines.

Democrats this year are pulling back on a broader assault weapons ban and instead pushing a ban on devices that accelerate the rate of fire from semi-automatic guns.

Even though expanded background checks wouldn’t have prevented Stephen Paddock from killing 58 people from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas on Oct. 1, Murphy argues that Democrats shouldn’t lose focus on an issue that has a better chance of passing Congress and winning future elections.

“In general we have to be careful not to whipsaw our policy agenda back and forth based on the details of the last mass shooting. That’s why I think it’s important to constantly be talking about the one policy change that would save the most lives: background checks,” Murphy said.