Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat from Connecticut, joined me today. He is one of the hopes for rebuilding the Democratic Party, and like Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan, willing to come on to a conservative show and talk about the debates of the day:
HH: I’m pleased to welcome for the very first time to the show today Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy. He is the junior senator from Connecticut, but he’s 44 years old. He’s a former member of the House of Representatives, a former state legislator, and a former elected planning commission. And when I first met Senator Murphy in the green room at MSNBC, I said to him were you out of your mind? That’s the worst job in politics. Senator Murphy, welcome to the Hugh Hewitt Show.
CM: I always tell people that I spent a year on the planning and zoning commission in my town, and I realized that if I wanted any future in politics, I had to get the heck off the planning and zoning commission as quickly as possible. That was, and that was good advice from myself to myself.
HH: Yeah, it really is a funny world, and I spent 30 years in law practice appearing before planning commissions, and they’re served by good citizens, but man, nobody likes you when you’re on the planning commission. You’re either, you’re making somebody unhappy, and another person ungrateful.
CM: Yeah, so I went to a job in the United States Senate where you know, we have approval ratings of around 11%, so you know, I feel like the love-in now.
HH: Well, Senator Murphy, I want to thank you for coming on. Tim Ryan, my friend from Warren, Ohio, comes on as a Democratic Congressman. I’m glad to actually have conversations across the ideological divide. I think we need more of them in this country, and I appreciate you doing it. Let’s talk about the job you have ahead this week. You’re a member of the Appropriations Committee, the Foreign Relations Committee, the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and that means you’ll have some confirmation hearings, including Rex Tillerson. What else, do you have any other hearings this week besides Tillerson?
CM: Yeah, so we’ll have on the Health committee this week, we have Betsy DeVos if that hearing goes forward, and then soon thereafter, we have both Price and the Labor nominee, Puzder.
HH: Okay, Andy is a good, good friend of mine. He’s a terrific man. You’re going to love Andy Puzder. I don’t know Betsy DeVos. Tom Price, of course, is very well known to me and your former colleague from the House. I don’t think any of those will not be confirmed. Let’s talk about Rex Tillerson, about whom there’s been the most controversy. What was your meeting like with him?
CM: So I’m meeting with him tonight. So I have not met with him, yet, and listen, I’m going to be, I’m going to be straight with him. I mean, you know, obviously, you’re talking to a Democrat who believes, you know, deeply in our obligation as a country to fight climate change, and so I’m going to be asking him about, you know, how you reorient from someone that spent, you know, a career working for a company who you know, several times has some decisions to make about whether he did something that was right for his company or what was right for his country. And he chose, you know, pretty consistently, to do what was right for Exxon/Mobil. And in a pretty high profile example, and in Iraq, he was asked by our government to not sign a specific oil contract with the Kurdish government, because we were trying to build a strong central government in Baghdad, and he didn’t listen. And I understand. He was the president of a company. But I want to understand how you go from making those kind of decision for 40 years to all of a sudden reorienting yourself, and of course, we all want, Republicans and Democrats, to use this hearing this week to maybe start to get some answers about what the Trump administration policy towards Russia is going to be. And I spent a lot of time with John McCain in Ukraine. We were the first two people in that government, the Yanukovych government, was falling apart. And you know, I want to know are we continuing sanctions, what is this new relationship going to look like with Russia, and to try to poke some holes in this fantasy that seems to exist right now in the Trump world that you can have a functional relationship with Vladimir Putin without giving him almost everything that he wants in his sphere of influence. So it’ll be a really fascinating hearing.
HH: I’m looking forward to it, because I don’t believe that General Mattis or Rex Tillerson or John Kelly or Dan Coats, your old colleague, have any kind of blurred vision about the nature of the Putin regime, and that they are very clear-eyed about it. But it will be an interesting hearing. I’m looking forward to it. Going back, given your time on foreign affairs, do you think in retrospect Tillerson’s decision about Kurdistan was in the best interest of the United States? Whatever our State Department recommended to him, aren’t we happy that Kurdistan was there to stop ISIS when the Iraqi central government was falling apart?
CM: Well, I think, I think ultimately, there’s no way to run that country without a functioning strong, central government, and I think there’s probably a time and a place to have a conversation about the devolution of power. But at that moment, when we were trying to establish central governance, and we needed, frankly, the revenue that comes from the oil in Kurdistan in order to fund the rebuilding of the parts of the country in Shia and Sunni controlled areas that have been devastated by the war, it was important to be able to build, you know, to build out that capacity in Baghdad. Now I know Joe Biden and others, you know, think that from the outset, we should have just divided it up into three sections. I’m not necessarily a believer that would have worked, but you know, that the fact of the matter is at the time, he was asked by his government to, you know, just step aside and hold back on this one contract of, you know, literally hundreds that they have across the world, and he wouldn’t do it. And you know, listen, again, he’s just going to say that, I assume, that was a different job from the job that he’s getting. But you know, he consistently rebuffed requests from the U.S. government to try to help out our national security priorities. Now you know, I’ll just be interested to hear him talk to the committee about that over the course of this week.
HH: You and me, both, because if I were him, I would defend the action, because of, I think the State Department was wrong about Kurdistan all these years. But we’ll see what he has to say. Let me ask you, you campaigned for Congress, for Senate, as an enemy of the filibuster. And you succeeded. You voted for the Reid Rule. Am I correct about that?
CM: Yeah, no, I was a supporter of, you know, what we call the Merkley-Udall proposal to at least move to, you know, a talking filibuster, a real filibuster. But yeah, I have never really understood the rules.
HH: So when Harry Reid brought forward the rule that changed the vote requirement for nominees, did you vote for that?
CM: I did.
HH: And so are you happy about that now, because all these Republicans are going to get confirmed.
CM: Yeah, I mean, it’s a really weird question, because truly, I’m not happy about the fact that a lot of people that I, you know, don’t consider to be qualified or mainstream in their thinking are going to be, are going to be confirmed, but you know, I guess, you know, my position generally is that, you know, the design of our government, you know, from the outset was, was, you know, made so that it was pretty hard to get policy change enacted in this country. I mean, there was this kind of radical idea of having a bicameral legislature and a strong president with a veto. And you know, the founders sort of talked about supermajorities. And they reserved certain things for supermajorities. So you know, I’ve been a supporter of reforming the rules to, you know, at least force these filibusters to be real. You know, maybe I wouldn’t mind the minority having some power to stop something, but in the past, all you had to do is, and so the burden was always on the majority to get 60 votes. I know what it’s like to stand on the Senate floor for 15 hours, and it’s not easy. But if you really believe in something, then actually mount a filibuster, actually come down and hold the floor for a day or two days to show that you’re passionate about something. So I guess I’d like to work towards a day in which the filibuster actually means that you have to exert some risk and some energy, some effort as a minority, and I think that that would mean that it would be used less often. I think that’s where I’d like to get to. I’d like to get to a place where the filibuster ultimately isn’t the barrier to every single piece of legislation that comes before the Senate. But right now, you know, if you’re the minority party, you take advantage of the rules as they are, and you know, maybe there’ll be a bipartisan reform down the line.
HH: Now I agree with you. I believe the filibuster, and have for years, is extra-Constitutional, and that the framers spelled out when supermajorities were necessary as with the ratification of a treaty or the impeachment of a president. They spelled it out. They didn’t spell it out for legislation. They didn’t spell it out for nominees. So Harry Reid changed it vis-à-vis the nominees. Straightforward question, Senator Murphy, that precedent has not yet been applied to a Supreme Court nominee, but it is clearly applicable, is it not?
CM: The precedent, yeah, I mean, I think the precedent of changing the rules in the middle of the Congress, right, was, you know, was the basis on changing the number of 60 to 50 for presidential appointees. So I assume that that precedent still holds. You can argue against it for policy grounds, but I’m not sure that the precedent changes in this Congress.
HH: And so when a Supreme Court nominee comes up, it is not possible to stop them with, if they have Republican unanimity behind them, correct?
CM: Yeah, I guess, you know, I haven’t dug real deep into all the precedents and rules, but you know, I think ultimately what would stop that rules change from happening is more likely, you know, a number of Republicans like, you know, a number of Republicans who, you know, would rather have us working across the aisle on big issues like Supreme Court nominees and legislation. And listen, I think that the filibuster, the one benefit of the filibuster has historically been that it has forced the two parties to come together on big legislation, and on major nominations. And I think Reid’s position was that for the biggest nomination there is, the Supreme Court, it should be bipartisan. And for presidential appointments, which you know, frankly come and go a little bit more often, that if it was moved through with a partisan vote, it was less damaging than if a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court was moved through on a partisan vote. And I understand that. I understand…
HH: But the DC Circuit, I mean, judges did go through on a 51 vote, right?
CM: Yeah, that’s right, and listen, everybody can, I can understand that people can argue that the DC Circuit is just as important as the Supreme Court, but I think, but I think Reid’s point was that there’s something special about the Supreme Court that should require that vote to be bipartisan. And you know, I understand that perspective.
HH: Yeah, but the precedent is there, and I’m glad you agree with it. Come back early and often, Senator Murphy, great to talk to you this morning. I appreciate you sitting down with a conservative. I really, really do.
End of interview.