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Moderate House Democratic leader says GOP must be defeated in 2022 to save democracy

In an interview, Rep. Stephanie Murphy made her case for how Democrats should govern and avoid the midterm curse. And she didn't rule out a Senate bid.
Problem Solvers Caucus
Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., speaks during the Problem Solvers Caucus press conference in Washington on Feb. 11, 2020.Bill Clark / CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — A top moderate House Democrat says Republicans must be kept out of power to protect national security and democracy after the Capitol siege, a sharp new tone from the leader of a coalition known for working across party lines.

Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Florida co-chairs the Blue Dog Coalition, which has sought common ground rather than conflict with Republicans on issues like government funding, health care and immigration. But in a further sign that the channels of cooperation are being tested, Murphy offered a stinging indictment of her Republican colleagues in a wide-ranging interview.

Murphy questioned the GOP's commitment to democracy and said the party is increasingly defined by “conspiracy theories” rather than conservative policies. She cited votes from a majority of House Republicans to block the counting of electoral votes in key states for President Joe Biden on the night of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, including most who defeated Blue Dog members.

“It underscored for me that our political obligation is now a national security obligation,” Murphy told NBC News. “Imagine what would have happened had the Democrats not held the House, not been in the majority on Jan. 6 — where would we be today?”

She accused Republicans of “doubling down on the lie that led to the violence that took the lives of law enforcement officials as well as others.”

The aggressive pushback highlights how much the assault on the Capitol by supporters of former President Donald Trump and its fallout have strained relations between the two parties, as newly empowered Democrats push a progressive agenda and Republicans search for a way back to power.

Murphy, 42, the first Vietnamese-American woman to serve in Congress, cited her family experience fleeing a communist-run country when she was 6 months old, and her national security background working in the Pentagon, to argue that democratic institutions are fragile.

“The Democratic majority is not just about policies that we’re putting forward to help the American people. It is also about preserving our democracy,” she said. “They continue to create room for the conspiracy theorists. I don't know how you make common sense policy and laws that can help the American people when you live in your own la-la land.”

Murphy, who represents a divided district near Orlando, wouldn’t rule out a Senate run in 2022, when Republican Sen. Marco Rubio will face re-election, though she said her current focus is elsewhere.

“I’m really kind of focused right now on doing my job, serving my community,” Murphy said. “Of course, there will come a time where I hope I can you know share my experiences of winning in a district that very much mirrors the state more broadly. But this isn't the moment. Right now, I'm really focused on trying to get the next Covid bill across the finish line.”

Moderates 'Intend To Police' Deficit Spending

Despite her searing criticism of Republicans, Murphy’s moderate policy instincts remain intact.

She didn’t say how she'd vote on the progressive immigration bill that her party unveiled last week, explaining that she’s still reviewing it. She voiced skepticism about the wisdom of a minimum wage hike to $15-per-hour in the Covid-19 bill, fearing it could be contentious and slow things down. And she said that after the relief package passes, Democrats must return to deficit-consciousness.

She said the 18-member moderate House caucus will be reluctant to continue adding to the nation's deficit after the Covid-19 relief bill passes, a move that is sure to irritate progressive Democrats. She said House rules allow for deficit exemptions to tackle emergencies and climate change.

“Those are narrow exceptions,” Murphy said. “And the Blue Dogs have indicated to leadership that we intend to police those exceptions to make sure that they aren't abused.”

The Blue Dog Coalition includes numerous members who Republicans believe they have the best shot at defeating in the 2022 elections. Their survival could be decisive in the battle for House control as Democrats have a narrow majority and face historical headwinds in holding on to power in two years.

Murphy said the way to avoid another 2010-style defeat, when Democrats lost 63 seats during President Barack Obama’s first midterm election, is to “put points on the board” wherever possible.

“That means focusing on legislation that has the ability to pass the Senate and become law,” she said, offering a subtle warning to progressives: “Sometimes our passionate exuberance overwhelms our pragmatic approaches. We need to demonstrate to the American people we can govern and make their lives better. And sometimes that means making incremental change.”