Lest anyone think that U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy‘s ascendency this fall into leadership of the Democrats’ centrist “Blue Dog Coalition” is about the Winter Park congresswoman rebranding herself with that group’s history of conservative politics, a Washington Post story Tuesday suggests she is, rather, helping rebrand the Blue Dogs.
For Murphy it’s not a matter of anyone rebranding anyone. For her, she said Tuesday in an interview, the group is not, and might never have been about being a refuge for conservative Democrats, but rather for pragmatic Democrats. Yet the group stands in contrast, some Democrats argue in opposition to, a growing progressive wing in the party. And Murphy in particular is finding herself branded the target of strong criticism from that wing, even though, on many issues, the Blue Dogs now share many progressive views.
Murphy downplays any policy differences within her party, suggesting the difference is more about whether members want to espouse partisan ideology, or focus on attainable objectives and goals.
And yes, she offered, these Blue Dogs should have some bite in the upcoming 116th Congress, with its Democratic majority in a divided government.
“I certainly think that we do, considering the profiles of our membership,” she said Tuesday. “In addition to the fact that we are operating in a closely-held Congress on behalf of the American people who are desperate for pragmatic legislators who are just willing to get stuff done.”
Late last month the 24-member incoming class for the Blue Dogs elected Murphy to be its co-chair for administration, which essentially is the first among equals of three co-chairs for the group. It was one of several centrist group leadership positions Murphy has claimed or exercised since being re-elected Nov. 6. Two weeks ago she was elected chair of the Democrats’ “Future Forum.” And she ended November having helped lead a stare-down with Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, winning some pledges for rules changes demanded by the Problem Solvers Caucus, which also features Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto of Kissimmee.
The Washington Post referred to the caucus Tuesday as “Murphy’s Blue Dogs.”
Murphy, the newspaper declared, “is living proof that the Blue Dog Coalition has morphed into something its founders would struggle to recognize.”
The group was founded in the 1990s and was long dominated by conservative Democrats, mostly from southern states, whose views on issues such as gun control, gay rights, abortion, immigration and border control likely would find little common ground with Murphy, or, for that matter, most of the other Blue Dogs for 2019, including U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg.
That has been more of a matter of evolution of the whole Democratic caucus in Congress, she suggested. Blue Dogs have normally come from swing districts, and still do. The social issue concerns have evolved to the point where Democrats can get elected in many of those districts while being pro-abortion rights, in support of LGBTQ rights, and interested in gun law reform, provided they make fiscal responsibility and national security priorities. The Post suggested Murphy may have set the model for such campaigns when she topped Republican U.S. Rep. John Mica in Florida’s 7th Congressional District in 2016.
This year she campaigned for others around the country who adopted similar platforms, and some of them, such as U.S. Reps. Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey and Abigail Spanberger of Virginia are now part of Murphy’s Blue Dogs.
“They tended to be more conservative Democrats,” she said of previous Blue Dogs. “But they were united around two principles that we are all still united behind despite the changes in the membership. And those two principles are fiscally-responisible policy as well as strong national security. To this day though the makeup of the Blue Dogs has changed, we are still committed to the principals of fiscal responsibility and strong national security done in a bipartisan and pragmatic way.”
Don’t mistake the Blue Dogs’ definition of fiscally-responsibility policy, at least from Co-Chair Murphy’s point of view, with conservative economics that see tax cuts as stimulus that then increases federal tax revenue, ultimately leading to federal fiscal health. Murphy strongly opposed the Republicans’ 2017 tax cut and still does, charging that it was irresponsible, causing the current rise in the federal deficit, and the primary fuel for a national debt now approaching $22 trillion.
And don’t mistake the Blue Dogs’ definition of fiscal responsibility with seeking spending cuts to close that gap, though Murphy had introduced a bill, which went nowhere, calling for a federal balanced budget amendment that would exempt entitlement programs from cuts..
“What I’m talking about is having an honest conversation about revenue and outlays, and prioritizing what this country wants to invest in. And then making sure we are in a fiscally stable position to be able to make those investments,” she said. “I think you have to look at the whole picture and make a case for what it is we want from both the revenue side and from the outlay side. It requires a comprehensive look at both our spending and our revenues.”
That’s not likely to happen between now and Friday when the federal government runs out of money unless a deal is cut between President Donald Trump, who wants $5 billion for his border wall, and a Congress that’s not likely to give it to him. Murphy does not see much role for the Blue Dogs in this fight.
“But the other thing it really requires is a return to regular order, as it relates to appropriations. We are four days shy of a potential government shutdown. We have for more than a decade now veered from one continuing resolution to an omnibus, as opposed to having the hard conversation and passing a budget and a corresponding appropriations bill in a timely manner.
And don’t mistake Murphy’s Blue Dogs’ positions on national security to resemble much of what is coming from the Trump White House, supported by many Republicans, as a conservative foreign policy. A former national security analyst in the U.S. Defense Department, Murphy has been a harsh critics of Trump’s national security policies, and still is.
“I think the moment for us to draw a stark contrast with what we are seeing advanced by the Republicans and the Republican administration is, we have an opportunity to assure our allies and to deter our adversaries, as opposed to this Republican administration, I think, alienanted our allies and emboldened our adversaries,” she said.