‘To have my colleagues question my motivations, as it relates to helping refugees, is insulting…’
(Steven Lemongello, Orlando Sentinel) Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Florida has emerged as a moderate force in Washington, drawing heat from the increasingly vocal progressive wing of her party.
“We were one of seven districts in the entire country with a zero partisan tilt,” said Murphy, 40, in an interview with The Orlando Sentinel. “I can assure you, that makes for a very different member (of Congress), than people who are in super safe districts, either red or blue.”
Politico recently called her The Velvet Hammer for her quiet, behind-the-scenes influence on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi through the groups she co-chairs, the moderate Blue Dogs and the under-50 Future Forum, as well as her role in the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus.
Murphy “right now seems to be a good fit for the district,” which includes Seminole and parts of Orange County, said Aubrey Jewett, a professor of political science at the University of Central Florida. “Someone left of center but also pro-business. … The fact that she knocked off an incumbent (in GOP U.S. Rep. John Mica) and was reelected suggests that.”
Democratic Party divisions came to a head last month when U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and other progressives angrily criticized Pelosi and the Blue Dogs for backing the Senate version of an emergency spending bill giving $1 billion to U.S. Customs and Border Protection and $280 million to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Progressives demanded more stringent restrictions on the Trump administration because of the conditions at the migrant holding camps at the Mexican border, where seven children have died in the last year. Some didn’t want to give the administration any more money for border camps at all.
But with the Senate voting 84-8 in favor, the House ultimately voted 305-102 for the bill, though with many Democratic defections.
Murphy, who voted for the bill, called it “an extraordinary demonstration of bipartisanship, to do the right thing as it relates to the humanitarian crisis on the border.”
Murphy said the Senate bill provided additional money to prevent human trafficking and overtime for customs officers, as well as “sufficient guardrails” to prevent the administration from shifting funding for other purposes.
“The House had the choice, in the face of a humanitarian crisis, of playing political games and further delaying much-needed resources to agencies that were running out of funding, or we could take up the bill that the Senate had passed, that could be signed by the president, and get money to the crisis at the border,” she said.
The issue turned personal when Saikat Chakrabarti, Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff, tweeted last month that Murphy’s Blue Dog Caucus were “the ‘New Southern Democrats.’ They certainly seem hell bent to do to black and brown people today what the old Southern Democrats did in the 40s.”
He later deleted the tweet.
“I am somebody who was a refugee, and my father was the captain of the ship that my family escaped on,” said Murphy, who is Vietnamese. She was born in Vietnam but left as an infant.
“And but for the grace of God, I could have been that little girl in that photo with her dad, that everybody is talking about,” she added, referring to the photo of a migrant father and his daughter who drowned in the Rio Grande seeking to enter the U.S. “And so to have my colleagues question my motivations, as it relates to helping refugees, is insulting. And I find it to be unprofessional.”
Murphy also got national headlines earlier this year for an appearance in Washington, at which she said, “I am offended by this whole conversation about socialism. … The idea that in the greatest democracy, the greatest capitalist system in the world, we’re having casual conversation about socialism, offends me.”
Ocasio-Cortez, as well as presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., describe themselves as Democratic socialists.
Murphy said she was not only critical “of the handful of Democrats who are talking about socialism, but also the Republicans for their politically craven approach to trying to paint the entire Democratic Party as socialist, when they know that’s not true, for their own political game.”
She said Democrats and Republicans should not “normalize” a term “that is incredibly painful to many of my constituents, constituents who came from Cuba or Venezuela, or who were part of the generation that fought to ensure that we were able to defend other countries from communism.”
The capitalist system, she said, “has created some inequities that we have to address. What we should be doing is making our system better, not trying to embrace an economic system that we have seen fail all across this world.”
Murphy also recently teamed up with GOP U.S. Rep. Michael Waltz of Florida to demand a briefing for Florida’s congressional delegation over the Russian hacking intrusion of two counties in 2016 – which Murphy and the others are still prevented from naming – and to introduce a bill requiring states and counties be quickly notified of any such hacking attempt.
“We cannot afford to allow this issue to die down,” she said. “Because this is a direct threat to our democracy.”
She’s also pushing for follow-up funding for one of her key accomplishments of her first term, ending the 22-year ban on federal funding for gun violence research. While the ban is gone, the money is still not there, and Murphy is leading an effort to allocate $50 million to the Centers for Disease Research and National Institutes of Health for such research.
While it passed the House, it still has to go through the GOP-controlled Senate.
“I do think passage in the Senate is possible because it’s the right thing to do,” she said. “And we have built bipartisan support on this.”
But, she added, passage is being held up by GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
©2019 The Orlando Sentinel. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.