Stephanie Murphy’s long provocative game to keep Democrats in power

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“I feel I have an obligation to reflect the voices of districts that don’t resemble the majority of our caucus,” Murphy said in an interview.

This position, along with several others that have won him no favor in the party, is not limited to his own battlefield district. The senior member of the Moderate Blue Dog Coalition sees part of her role as throwing political grenades at endangered members facing offensive votes, even if it means every member of Murphy’s audience stands up against President Nancy Pelosi and Biden reads like a threat to unravel the platform of his party leaders.

When Biden visited the House in early October, for example, Murphy later said she was stunned by the president’s decision not to get members to vote for his infrastructure plan that day. Instead, he gave in to progressive pressure and gave the green light to postpone the infrastructure bill.

“He took what would otherwise have been a historic, bipartisan victory and turned it into a partisan club against his own party,” Murphy said.

The Florida Democrat has embraced this more confrontational role amid questions about her own political future, weighing her options as she faces a likely difficult redistribution battle to retain her seat. While she was once considered certain of running for the Senate in 2022, she chose not to participate in a brutal primary battle to challenge Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) And could look to a 2024 race for the upper room, according to people close to her.

“I try to handle things outside of the media glare,” Murphy said, adding that she felt protective of her moderate colleagues “because often decisions are made and they ignore the appearance of a marginal purple, red or blue seat. Like. “

The centrist that really speaks volumes that Murphy now wears in the House was once worn by a lawmaker now best known for her silence: Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona). Before Sinema moved from the House to the Senate in 2018, she was a swing state junkie who defended Murphy when management urged her to take a tough vote.

When Democrats tried to corner Murphy in a tough vote, the Florida Democrat recalled that Sinema stepped in to tell him privately, “You do what you have to do.”

Like Sinema, Murphy has an independent streak, a loathing for cable TV antics, and is an enigma to many of his fellow Deep Blue Quarters.

“If you want to break the partisan deadlock and achieve lasting results for our country, you want Stephanie Murphy to be by your side,” Sinema said in a statement to POLITICO. “Stéphanie is a tireless, well prepared and – above all – independent voice for her condition.

Some Democrats have privately complained that Murphy and her moderate colleagues had brushed off work on Biden’s broader spending plan, such as when she and three other centrists voted against parts of her bill in committee this summer. They point to Murphy’s role on Pelosi’s whip team and his seat on the speaker’s handpicked panel investigating Jan. 6 as reasons they were taken aback by his public criticism.

But Murphy rejected the idea that any plum committee spot should mean limiting any of his public or private statements: “Did someone offer me the January 6 committee in exchange for a future vote. I wouldn’t be on this committee.

Murphy’s allies also point out that she has played a key role in quietly crafting legislation and building consensus within the centrist Democratic bloc for years, generally preferring to work behind the scenes with Pelosi, the House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and other leaders.

The decision to speak out more publicly this year was in part due to the fact that the centrist bloc in the House felt it needed a counterweight to the larger and louder progressive wing of the House as Biden’s program was moving to the Hill.

“She’s never been shy,” said Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), Another co-chair of the Blue Dog Coalition. “I think there are very few people who fit into Murphy’s mold of putting, frankly, country and district ahead of party allegiance… She’s making that speech.”

If Murphy stays in the House, other Democrats have speculated that she might have a place in the next generation of leaders. They highlight her fascinating personal history as a Vietnamese refugee who continued to work in the Pentagon and the trust she built among vulnerable members.

“Stephanie Murphy is a smart, hardworking, thoughtful, principled leader in the Democratic House caucus and her voice matters,” said Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries (DN.Y.). He added that his victory in 2016 helped form “one of the building blocks” for Democrats to regain a majority two years later.

Yet it was not always clear that she would run for the House next November.

In the first few months of this year, Murphy had all but declared a statewide run against Rubio, only to retreat after fellow Florida Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.) Announced his run. .

Since then, Murphy has vowed to be re-elected to the House. But below-average fundraising in recent months – just $ 140,000 in the last quarter – has left some wondering if she’s changed her mind. Those close to Murphy have said she has no plans to drop her candidacy for re-election, although they recognize her seat could become much more difficult to hold in the GOP-controlled redistribution process in Florida. Allies such as Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) Said that “if she wants to run, she will have all the resources she needs.”

Murphy still insists Democrats can retain their majority next November with the right strategy – a strategy she is working to help revamp after the previous year’s election cost the seats by dozens of moderate. Even before November 2020, Murphy and her team were sounding the alarm bells, particularly in her home state of Florida, where she feared Democrats were losing ground with Latino voters.

Speaking openly against socialism, Murphy cut an ad for the 2020 Biden campaign run in South Florida, well outside his own district, in an effort to build support for his party there. This year, she and her team say they are devoting more resources to protecting incumbent operators.

Murphy believes Biden’s agenda could be a key factor in Democrats retaining power, a major reason she continued to raise issues with the broader $ 1.75 social spending plan.

“No amount of money can overcome bad policy. And so no amount of messages, no money spent, can overcome messages inconsistent with what voters want, ”Murphy said.

It was this concern that led the Florida Democrat to play such a public – and sometimes combative – role in the negotiations. This summer, Murphy was among a dozen Democrats who delayed Biden’s social spending bill to get a vote on a bipartisan infrastructure bill.

But plans for that late September vote were ultimately scuttled, thanks to a counter-threat from progressives to block the infrastructure bill without the more radical bill. This widened the trust gap many centrists felt with the leadership this fall and further fueled tensions within the party.

Months later, much of the dynamic remains the same: Progressives and centrists presented competing demands, but none of Biden’s bills passed. Meanwhile, Murphy argues that these progressive maneuvers only delayed the infrastructure vote – with no tangible change in the position of Senate centrists.

“Sen. Manchin is not a dime higher than it was in July,” Murphy said.

Heather Caygle and Burgess Everett contributed to this report.


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