Who would have thought a little known junior senator from Connecticut would be one of the leaders in prodding Congress to exercise its constitutional authority as President Obama’s wages war abroad?
But that’s precisely the role Sen. Chris Murphy has assumed in the last few weeks. Murphy has been all over the place, blasting out press releases and appearing on television at every available opportunity. Normally when politicians strain to get themselves in front of cameras, I cringe. Dick Blumenthal, Murphy’s colleague in the Senate, comes to mind.
Two Sundays ago Murphy appeared on NBC’s Meet The Press, where he went toe to toe with Sen. Ron Johnson, R-WI, and new moderator Chuck Todd. And this past Sunday, he returned to Connecticut to face Al Terzi and Jenn Berstein on Fox-CT’s The Real Story. He shone brightly in both venues.
I was never a big fan of Murphy’s. In many ways, he just seems like a typical politician — all about messaging, imaging, and self interest. I interviewed him several times when he came out of nowhere to defeat Nancy Johnson, the Republican who represented the old 6th Congressional District for 25 years.
Murphy was exceedingly careful not to say anything controversial. Even on the Iraq war, which he says he opposed and Johnson supported, he took great pains not to make it a major focus of his campaign, lest his words come back to haunt him. After all, several iconic Democratic figures in Congress, such as John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards — and yes, Chris Dodd and Joe Lieberman — voted to support the resolution and later had to explain their votes away.
It was much safer to hammer away at Johnson’s authorship of Medicare Part D, which prohibited the federal government from negotiating the prices of drugs with the pharmaceutical companies. Who could possibly disagree with Murphy’s criticism of that indefensible policy?
Fortunately, Murphy has grown by leaps and bounds since the days when he was an insurgent state senator trying to topple a 12-term Washington incumbent. He has carried his cautious interest in foreign policy as a congressional candidate to become an emerging leader on that subject in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where he also chairs the Subcommittee on European Affairs.
In his appearance on The Real Story, Murphy made a clear and compelling case, not only that a thorough debate is needed on Obama’s decision to start a bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria, but that Congress should return to Washington before its post-election lame-duck session and actually hold a vote on whether to endorse or even authorize the president’s actions.
“The Constitution mandates that we have a vote, and the consequences of getting this wrong are potentially disastrous to us,” Murphy said.
“One of the worries we have is that by arming and training these Syrian rebels, who are fighting side by side with Al Qaeda inside Syria, is that you would actually be strengthening, not weakening Al Qaeda in Syria,” Murphy said. “So that’s what’s important to remember in this whole debate.”
I’m not a foreign policy expert by any stretch of the imagination, but Murphy certainly sounds like he has learned a lot about the subject in his year and half in the world’s most exclusive club. He is very fluent, discoursing easily on everything from Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad to the Sunni moderates to the Kurdish peshmerga.
Last week I watched British Prime Minister David Cameron address lawmakers, whom he had called into emergency session to make his case in Parliament for joining the international coalition to defeat the Islamic State (ISIS). There was a robust debate among both the prime minister’s allies and foe, while Cameron was called upon to defend his desire to join the coalition — which he did eloquently.
I found myself thinking, “Why can’t we have a system of government like that?” Instead of vigorous discourse on our risky involvement in the Middle East, we get brief media availabilities, press releases, Oval Office addresses, and a cowardly Congress that goes into recess until the elections instead of doing what we pay them to do.
Murphy is among the few in Washington advocating loudly for Congressional action, even if it means interrupting the vacations and campaigning of the Capitol Hill ruling class. You go, young man!
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