Congressional Republicans have largely fallen in line behind Donald Trump’s executive orders on immigration. House Speaker Paul Ryan, who once opposed Trump’s “Muslim ban,” has announced his support for the new restrictions. Other prominent Republicans have followed suit.
But Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy (D) says he thinks his Republican colleagues in Congress can be persuaded to oppose the new president’s decisions — in part because Murphy doesn’t believe Senate Republicans really support Trump’s crackdown on immigrants and refugees, even if their current statements and actions suggest otherwise.
“Republicans are, by and large, very good people who care about the future of their country. In their hearts, they disagree with the things that Trump is doing,” Murphy says in an interview on Saturday. “It’s understandable that during the first seven days of [Trump’s] administration, they don’t want to make big, ugly breaks with him.”
So far, only a handful of Republican members of Congress have denounced Trump’s orders. But Murphy says he’ll be pressing his case to the party. “I am going to do my best to shame Republicans into joining us to oppose this measure,” he says.
On Saturday, I called Murphy to ask why he opposes Trump’s executive order — and how he hopes to convince his Republican colleagues in Congress to agree. A transcript of our conversation, edited for length and clarity, follows.
Sen. Chris Murphy: “I am going to do my best to shame Republicans into joining us”
I saw your Huffington Post article denouncing Trump's executive action on barring refugees and immigrants from the seven majority-Muslim countries.
I wanted to start by asking if there's anything you will be trying to advocate in the Senate to overturn it, or any legislation you're proposing to do so.
I think our life is made difficult by congressional Republicans' unconscionable silence. They were very willing to speak out against the Muslim ban and against refugee bans during the campaign, but have gone completely underground in the last 24 hours.
This is a Muslim ban. Trump is banning refugees and immigrants from Muslim countries, with an exception for Christians. That's the definition of the kind of Muslim ban that Republicans were quick to reject during the campaign.
I am going to do my best to shame Republicans into joining us to oppose this measure, but they control Congress. Democrats can't change this policy by ourselves.
I'm going to make the case to them that this is terrible national security policy. This is objectionable from a moral standpoint, but it's also going to get Americans killed.
You're going to start seeing this populate recruitment bulletin boards from terror groups — very quickly, we'll have evidence that this policy will swell the ranks of terror groups.
To stay on the point about congressional Republicans: In private, do you have a sense that they're afraid to challenge Trump? Or is this something they've come to support, and that explains their silence here and support for the policy?
Well, as you know, it's not one story.
There is an Islamophobic wing of the Republican Party, and there are others who have historically rejected bans based on religion. [Vice President] Mike Pence was one of them, as was Paul Ryan. There are many Republicans who do object to this policy but have chosen to be silent so as not to get crosswise with Donald Trump. I've frankly been surprised by it.
Trump is trying to make the ban sound more palatable by limiting it to countries that sound menacing. But no refugee from those programs has committed an act of terror on US soil, and yet the countries that have posed those threats to the United States — like Saudi Arabia — are not on the list.
Just to clarify: You think outside of the Trumpian context, your Senate colleagues on the Republican side would agree with you that this is dangerous?
On the one hand, it's hard for me to speculate — this is a brand new policy, it came out yesterday, we're not in Washington. It would be unfair for me to tell you what Republicans secretly think of this specific ban. I can only say what they've said in the past.
Let's say you can convince Republicans in Congress to work with you. What kind of legislation could overturn the executive order, given the president's apparently wide legal authority on questions of national security?
I don't think Trump has any idea what the vetting process is for refugees from these countries — it is already a very vigorous vetting process, and that's why we haven't had attacks committed on American soil by refugees from these countries.
But I certainly think there's a middle ground where we could work with Republicans to increase resources for vetting and screening, as a condition for these programs being continued or expanded. So there's always room for these vetting programs to be stronger. And maybe that's an opening for legislation with Republicans.
I saw the photo you tweeted out of the boy on the beach. How did you come to work on this issue? And can you explain why you view it as such an essential humanitarian question?
I have a concept of what American greatness is — it involves this country staying true to its tradition of rescuing people from terror and persecution. This country's founding idea is based on being a haven for people who are fleeing from prosecution. It rattles me to my core when I see this president taking this country in a direction that fundamentally violates our original intent.
I am absolutely convinced that this policy is going to get Americans killed if we don’t stop it. I absolutely believe that terrorists and terrorist groups will use this for recruitment — not just overseas, but here with lone-wolf attackers in the United States. I think it’s an imperative to get this overturned.
So for both of those reasons — I spend a lot of time working on foreign policy; I was on the foreign relations committee and ranking Democrat [on the Subcommittee on Near East, South Asia, Central Asia, and Counterterrorism]. I spend a lot of time talking to national security experts.
From a moral foundation and a national security standpoint, I can’t think of many things more dangerous than this policy.
Can you take me into your thinking to convince Republicans to be willing to defy Trump — on this issue or more broadly? What do you think the right strategy is for Democrats and those appalled by what Trump has done here?
I don’t think this is rocket science: Ultimately, Republicans are by and large very good people who care about the future of their country. In their hearts, they disagree with the things Trump is doing.
I guess it’s understandable that during the first seven days of his administration they don’t want to make big, ugly breaks with him. So I just think we have to keep at our insistence that Republicans stay true to the things they said during the campaign, and speak truth to power.
If I’m being a glass-half-full senator, I say to myself that it’s just too early for them to make breaks and be willing to move away from him and speak against him in the weeks and months.