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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 MurphyOvernight Defense: Defense bill among Congress's year-end scramble | Iranian scientist's assassination adds hurdles to Biden's plan on nuclear deal | Navy scrapping USS Bonhomme Richard after fire Biden faces new Iran challenges after nuclear scientist killed New Jersey to halt indoor sports, cap outside gatherings 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 TrumpGeraldo Rivera on Trump sowing election result doubts: 'Enough is enough now' Murkowski: Trump should concede White House race Scott Atlas resigns as coronavirus adviser to Trump 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 ClintonBiden budget pick sparks battle with GOP Senate Katko fends off Democratic opponent in New York race Harris County GOP chairman who made racist Facebook post resigns MORE and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden budget pick sparks battle with GOP Senate Overnight Defense: Defense bill among Congress's year-end scramble | Iranian scientist's assassination adds hurdles to Biden's plan on nuclear deal | Navy scrapping USS Bonhomme Richard after fire Biden faces new Iran challenges after nuclear scientist killed 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) ManchinOvernight Health Care: Moderna to apply for emergency use authorization for COVID-19 vaccine candidate | Hospitals brace for COVID-19 surge | US more than doubles highest number of monthly COVID-19 cases Bipartisan Senate group holding coronavirus relief talks amid stalemate Major unions back Fudge for Agriculture secretary MORE [W.Va.] and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenBiden budget pick sparks battle with GOP Senate Warren, Brown voice support for controversial Biden budget office pick Biden's economic team gets mixed reviews from Senate Republicans 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 ObamaCan Antony Blinken make American foreign policy great again? Biden's favorability rating rises while Trump's slips: Gallup Mullen: 'National security issues do not wait' for presidential transitions 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.