In The News
Meet one of the most influential Blue Dog Dems
Florida Rep. Stephanie Murphy has become one of the more influential figures within the Democratic Caucus. She’s the head of the Blue Dog Coalition, a small, but powerful wing of moderates that holds outsize sway in a party with a razor-thin majority.
She’s also a member of the committee investigating the origins of the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Murphy was among the last of the moderate Democratic holdouts House leaders needed to win over to secure a victory for Biden’s signature spending and climate package, which passed along party lines Friday morning, with one Democrat voting against it. It now heads to the Senate, where its future is unclear.
“There is a lot of good in this bill,” Murphy said in a statement late Thursday. “[A]s a pragmatic Democrat who wants to deliver for my constituents, I am never one to let the perfect become the enemy of the good.”
For months, Murphy and a handful of fiscally conservative House Democrats were unwilling to give their blessing to the sprawling $1.7 trillion dollar package, citing the need to see cost estimates from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
Thursday afternoon, ahead of the release of the CBO score, and before Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy delayed House Democrats’ planned vote on the Build Back Better Act, Murphy told me she wasn’t looking for a specific figure. She just wanted to know what the money looked like before she cast a vote.
The CBO predicted the bill would add $367 billion to the deficit over the next decade, a number that could shrink even further if White House assessments are accurate about increased IRS enforcement yielding more tax revenue. The Biden administration believes that would offset the cost of the bill altogether.
Looking ahead to the midterms next year, Murphy says the party needs members who can win “in competitive seats, purple seats and red seats” not just those who simply tout “grand ideas that can’t garner the votes to get across the finish line.”
We chopped it up, talking about where moderates fit into Democrats' prospects for keeping control of Congress, whether that wing of the party should shoulder any of the blame for delaying the president’s agenda, the Democratic losses in Virginia — and former Trump adviser Steve Bannon’s indictment.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
THE RECAST: There is a big vote scheduled before Thanksgiving. And I know you and a handful of other moderate Democrats previously said you wanted to withhold your votes on Build Back Better back until the CBO released its findings. Is that still the case for you?
REP. MURPHY: When we vote on bills in the House, they typically come with a CBO score, so that we understand the cost of the bill as well as any potential deficits. It just gives us an estimation for what it is that we're voting on. So asking for a CBO score on a bill that might be close to $2 trillion seems like good governance.
THE RECAST: The Joint Committee on Taxation earlier this month released its estimate that the bill would create some $1.47 trillion in new taxes. The Treasury Department estimated it would add somewhere in the neighborhood of $2 trillion in savings. Is there a specific number you're looking for?
REP. MURPHY: I’m looking for just complete information. As you may know, JCT only looks at revenues. And this bill has both [spending] and revenues. And I think it's important that on behalf of my constituents, I understand the complete picture on the bill.
THE RECAST: So you're not looking for a specific number, you just want to know what it all costs. And once you get the figures, you’re a yes vote?
REP. MURPHY: I've always said that I was committed to passing a targeted fiscally disciplined reconciliation bill. And so I'm looking to see that the bill that was put together meets that standard.
And also that the bill makes significant investments into areas that I care about, like climate change, and lowering prescription drug costs, as well as some of the child care and pre-K provisions.
It's important when you're looking at a bill that touches American people's lives from the time they're born until the time they die, that you are thoughtful about what the content of the bill is, how much it costs, whether or not you're adding to deficits and debt in this country.
THE RECAST: I understand that. But you and other [previous] holdouts have drawn the ire from the left side of your party for withholding your votes on the reconciliation package. And as a result, neither the Build Back Better or the just-signed infrastructure bill could be passed before the most recent election in Virginia — where the state flipped red. Some in the party have opined the outcome in that election could have been different. Some on the left of your party have blamed moderates, like you, for the losses there.
REP. MURPHY: Eighty-six days is what it took for the bipartisan infrastructure bill that landed in the house on August 11 to be passed into law. When my colleagues asked to see the text of the [Build Back Better Act] before they would vote on infrastructure, I didn't criticize them for that.
In fact, there were multiple opportunities for my colleagues to have passed parts of Biden's agenda by passing the infrastructure bill. And it's unfortunate that they had to wait until Nov. 5, after the elections, to then pass the infrastructure bill on its merits in a standalone form, as they should have in August.
THE RECAST: So this ain’t your fault, is what I’m hearing you say.
REP. MURPHY: I am asking for what is normally provided for bills ... of much smaller size. I'm asking for the same information for a bill that is ginormous, and is a partisan bill. I don't think that that is an unreasonable request. In fact, it's just good legislating.
THE RECAST: Let’s switch gears. You’re the first woman of color to lead the Blue Dog Democrats. When I think of a traditional Blue Dog, I sort of think of them as older, white members of Congress from the Bible Belt. Your family came to the U.S. as refugees from Vietnam in the late 1970s. You worked your way up to being a specialist in the Department of Defense before you were elected. Can you talk to me a little bit about your trajectory and how that shaped your fiscally conservative and socially progressive views?
REP. MURPHY: Well, for all of the ways that other people want to characterize it, the Blue Dog Coalition is actually united behind the principles of fiscal responsibility and strong national security and working in a pragmatic way in order to get things done for the American people. And I think that's actually very consistent with the life experiences that I've had. I grew up in a working poor family and the only things that could help me and my family were the things that could actually become law.
So I'm very pragmatic about my approach to governing. And I believe in fiscal responsibility, because our nation needs to be fiscally strong and economically strong in order to be strong abroad.
And I've worked at the Department of Defense and understand the importance of national security, and how that is one of the primary responsibilities of an elected member of Congress is to ensure the safety and security of the American people.
THE RECAST: Sure. But have you thought at all about how, as an Asian American woman, the first woman of color to lead the coalition, has influenced it in ways that’s different from previous leaders?
REP. MURPHY: I don't think that my Asian-ness has an impact on the Blue Dogs. I take my role as a leader, and how I lead the coalition, may have had an impact on the way that the coalition functions. But that's a function of my leadership skills, not a function of the color of my skin.
THE RECAST: Do you feel there needs to be more room for Blue Dogs within the Democratic tent?
REP. MURPHY: If the Democrats want to be in the majority, they need to be able to win competitive seats, purple seats and red seats.
Those are the kinds of seats that Blue Dogs hold and we represent Democrats, Republicans and independents alike. And, you know, the majority runs through our members. When Blue Dogs are a robust coalition, we have a robust Democratic majority.
And when the Blue Dogs are lower in numbers, the Democratic majorities are very thin or nonexistent.
THE RECAST: So saying that because the Congressional Progressive Caucus is many times larger than the Blue Dog Coalition, it's a sign of what Democrats' majority will look like after 2022?
REP. MURPHY: Right now, as pragmatic legislators, we're focused on doing our jobs, not about the politics that’s well over 14 months away.
THE RECAST: Let’s talk about the Jan. 6 committee, which you are a member of. Steve Bannon is back in court. There’s a question about whether the judge presiding over the case should continue to do so.
As my colleagues Kyle Cheney and Josh Gerstein point out, Judge Carl Nichols, when he was a member of the DOJ in the George W. Bush administration argued for “absolute immunity of the president's close advisers.” Do you think the judge should recuse himself ?
REP. MURPHY: I recognize and respect the fact that I'm a part of the legislature and I don't have any say or control over the Justice Department or any of those judges.
THE RECAST: Finally, do you think now that Bannon has been indicted for contempt of Congress it will persuade other Trumpworld holdouts who ignored committee subpoenas to comply?
REP. MURPHY: Steve Bannon’s indictment should send a clear message to anyone who thinks they can ignore the select committee or stonewall our investigation. Their defiance will lead to consequences.
We're determined to use every tool at our disposal to get the information that we need that's relevant to our investigation. And so yeah, it's a shot over the bow.
I think in order to support the Constitution and the balance of powers that are set out, it's not my role to opine on the job of the judicial branch.