According to Progressive Punch, a nonpartisan searchable database of congressional voting records, there are 31 Senate Democrats who are more progressive than Chris Murphy of Connecticut. He’s moderate by temperament, too. When Murphy first ran for the Senate in 2012, the Hartford Courant endorsed him over his primary opponent, Susan Bysiewicz.
Experience and temperament are Mr. Murphy’s trump cards. His three terms in the U.S. House representing the central-northwestern Connecticut 5th District give him a leg up on mastering the Senate learning curve.
Temperamentally, the mostly agreeable Mr. Murphy, if he is elected, would be more likely than the sharp-edged Ms. Bysiewicz to work effectively within the Democratic caucus as well as across the aisle to deliver for Connecticut and the country.
Perhaps that is why, when commenting on the two-term Senator’s floor speech last Friday, Greg Sargent of the Washington Post called it “surprising.” The junior Senator from Connecticut boldly called out his Republican colleagues for engaging in “treachery against their nation.”
“Right now, the most serious attempt to overthrow our democracy in the history of our of country is underway.
Those who are pushing to make Donald Trump President, no matter the outcome of the election, are engaged in a treachery against their nation.” pic.twitter.com/FE7K91nlSD
— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) December 11, 2020
During a follow-up interview with Sargent, Murphy said that “[The GOP] isn’t just a party that’s trying to stay on the good side of an enemy of democracy [Trump]. This is a party that has a whole bunch of enemies of democracy inside its top ranks. That’s bone-chilling.”
Those statements come from a Democrat whose greatest accomplishment during his eight years in the Senate has been to collaborate with Republicans on passage of the Mental Health Reform Act of 2015. But the signature issue Murphy has embraced was spurred by the horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, which occurred in the district he represented in the House. It was personal, so passing common sense gun reform became Murphy’s passion.
When the murder of 20 children and six adult staff members didn’t move Republicans to act, Murphy didn’t stop pushing. By the time 49 people were killed at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, the senator from Connecticut reached his breaking point. He led a 15-hour filibuster on the Senate floor, which was joined by almost every Democrat that served in the chamber. Here is a particularly poignant moment when Murphy addressed his son, who had just showed up in the gallery.
True to his moderate roots, Murphy used the opportunity to advocate for rather modest reforms: block anyone on the terrorist watch list from purchasing guns or explosives and expand background checks to include guns purchased online or at gun shows. Both measures failed due to obstruction by Republicans.
It was, however, Republican efforts to deny the election results that led Murphy to insist that we “need more people looking at this as a hair-on-fire moment.” That’s because, “if this becomes at all normalized more broadly than it already is, they will steal an election two years from now or four years from now.”
But Murphy isn’t the only moderate Democrat sounding the alarm about extremist Republicans. When Senator Ted Cruz decried how a government shutdown would affect first-responders, Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado gave an uncharacteristically passionate speech about his colleague’s “crocodile tears,” pointing out that the senator from Texas had shut the government down in 2013 during a time when Coloradans were suffering from floods. Senator Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota referred to the confirmation hearings for Amy Coney Barrett as “a sham.” Finally, retiring Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico made it clear in his farewell address that “the Senate is broken.” In order to keep the chamber from becoming a “graveyard for progress” (perhaps an allusion to Majority Leader McConnell’s embrace of being the “grim reaper”), Udall called on Democrats to end the filibuster.
None of that rhetoric would garner much attention if it were coming from members of the House, where norms are more relaxed than they are in the Senate. It also wouldn’t raise eyebrows if it came from Senators like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren. Progressive politicians are known for their fiery rhetoric.
The reason these speeches are important is that they come from Senators who believe that the staid institution in which they serve is committed to governing via respectful dialogue and compromise. As moderate Senate Democrats have learned, Republican extremism has made that impossible.