Government & Politics

In 25th year, Patty Murray has new role: Playing defense, fighting ‘swamp creatures’

Washington state Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, ranking member on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, is leading the opposition against three of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees as she begins her 25th year in the U.S. Senate. She’s shown shaking hands on Nov. 4, 2016, before speaking to campaign volunteers and supporters at a rally in Seattle.
Washington state Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, ranking member on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, is leading the opposition against three of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees as she begins her 25th year in the U.S. Senate. She’s shown shaking hands on Nov. 4, 2016, before speaking to campaign volunteers and supporters at a rally in Seattle. AP

Sen. Patty Murray had big hopes for her 25th year as a senator. None of them involved playing defense.

The Washington state Democrat thought her friend and former colleague, Hillary Clinton, would be president. And she figured she’d be in perfect position to help increase the minimum wage, improve health care, make college more affordable and pass bills mandating family and sick leave.

Instead, Murray has had a busy January battling a collection of billionaires and big “swamp creatures.” That’s how the former pre-school teacher describes most of the Cabinet nominees appointed by GOP President Donald Trump.

“Obviously, I was disappointed in the (election) results because I now do not have a partner in the White House that shares the same goals,” Murray said in an interview. “So the role has shifted.”

Obviously, I was disappointed in the results because I now do not have a partner in the White House that shares the same goals, so the role has shifted.

Washington state Democratic Sen. Patty Murray

It has been a high-profile role for Murray, 66, who won a fifth term in a landslide in November after raising $13 million for her race.

As the top Democrat on the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, she’s received plenty of national attention for leading the opposition against three of Trump’s most controversial nominees: his picks to lead the departments of Health and Human Services, Education, and Labor.

So far, Murray has taken center stage in grilling Georgia Republican Rep. Tom Price, Trump’s pick to lead Health and Human Services, and Michigan philanthropist and GOP donor Betsy DeVos to run the Department of Education.

And next she’ll turn her sights on fast-food executive Andrew Puzder, who’s set to appear before the committee on Thursday.

Murray said that she wants to hear from employees who worked for Puzder, the head of CKE Restaurants Inc., which owns Hardee’s. She said he has built a record that “would make the challenges working families face today even worse,” noting his opposition to increasing the minimum wage and granting workers greater access to paid sick leave.

“He is going to have to explain in detail his vision to protect and to expand opportunities for workers,” Murray said.

She also wants a second hearing for DeVos to examine a “massive web of investments” that she said have been hard to track.

Murray said that DeVos was “very ill-prepared and didn’t know basic questions about education” at the first hearing, leading Murray to question whether she’s equipped to advise the president. Democrats have submitted a list of more than 800 questions for DeVos to answer.

“We need somebody with knowledge. … Don’t we want somebody there that knows what they’re talking about?” Murray asked.

Murray’s strongest criticism has been aimed at Price, a longtime proponent of scrapping the Affordable Care Act passed by Congress in 2010.

800The number of questions that Senate Democrats have submitted to Betsy DeVos, President Trump’s nominee to run the Department of Education

Addressing Price at his confirmation hearing, Murray said: “Your own proposals would cause millions of people to lose coverage, force many to pay more for their care, and leave people with pre-existing conditions vulnerable to insurance companies rejecting them or charging them more.”

Murray’s profile is rising as she climbs the seniority ladder on Capitol Hill. After the election, Senate Democrats elevated her to the No. 3 leadership post. And she now ranks ninth overall in seniority among the 100 senators.

“She really is our leader, leading us in this fight,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, regarded by many as a potential Democratic presidential candidate in 2020, said at a recent health-care event. “It’s a fight to protect what we stand for.”

Republican leaders say Murray and other prominent Democrats, led by Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, are just trying to delay votes and force Trump to wait longer than President Barack Obama to get his Cabinet in place.

“There’s just simply no excuse for this. … This is simply attempting to litigate or relitigate the election,” Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn told reporters this week. “Our Democratic friends need to get over the fact that this election is over.”

At a media briefing at the Capitol, GOP Sen. John Thune of South Dakota said Democrats are “playing political games” but that the Republican-led Senate will ultimately prevail.

“The president won an election,” Thune said. “He deserves to get his people in place. … But they will get there eventually.”

Murray dismissed the criticism, noting that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky wouldn’t even allow a hearing for Obama’s Supreme Court nominee last year. She said the new Congress has only been in session for three weeks and that Democrats want to make sure that the nominees are properly vetted.

“We are trying to get the questions answered,” Murray said.

The Senate so far has approved four of Trump’s nominees: United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, Defense Secretary James Mattis and CIA chief Mike Pompeo.

She really is our leader, leading us in this fight.

Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, on Murray

Murray voted for three of the four nominees, opposing Pompeo. She said the U.S. “must continue to work to strike the right balance between national security and civil liberties” and that Pompeo’s record “gave me serious pause.”

Murray said she has yet to decide how she’ll vote on Price, DeVos and Puzder, but added: “I am not impressed yet, I can put it that way.”

Murray’s not impressed with Trump, either, saying it was “difficult” to attend his inauguration last week.

Our Democratic friends need to get over the fact that this election is over.

Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn

At a news conference with other Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill, she said Trump “is building an administration that looks a whole lot like himself,” one filled with “Wall Street bankers, billionaires, millionaires, friends, insiders, campaign contributors, and cronies.”

“He said he was going to drain the swamp,” Murray said. “But he seems to think the way to do that is by filling it with even bigger swamp creatures. … We’re going to stand up and fight for the families we represent.

Murray, who marched in Saturday’s Women’s March in Washington, D.C., an event that drew a half-million people, said Trump has reignited the women’s movement.

In the interview, Murray said she was “absolutely disgusted” when the Washington Post in October released a video that showed Trump boasting years ago that, as a star, he could “do anything” to women, even “grab them by the pussy.”

“In fact, to this day I cannot believe that people didn’t take to heart what message that was sending to young girls everywhere,” Murray said. “It’s embarrassing. It’s horrible. And it’s not what we want.”

But she said Trump has made it clear where he stands on women’s issues by trying to get rid of Obamacare and funding for Planned Parenthood and by reinstating a ban on federal funding for international health groups that provide counseling to women on family planning issues, including abortion.

It just feels like this is an agenda where we are faced with an onslaught from a man who said clearly that he could do whatever he wanted to with women.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., on President Trump

“It just feels like this is an agenda where we are faced with an onslaught from a man who said clearly that he could do whatever he wanted to with women,” Murray said. “Well, his agenda appears to be doing that, and I am very offended by that.”

Lesley Clark contributed to this report.

Rob Hotakainen: 202-383-6154, @HotakainenRob

Senate seniority list: 115th Congress

Now in her 25th year, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., ranks ninth in seniority in the U.S. Senate in the new Congress.

Rank

Senator

Date Service Began

1

Patrick J. Leahy, D-VT

Jan. 3, 1975

2

Orrin G. Hatch, R-UT

Jan. 3, 1977

3

Thad Cochran, R-MS

Dec. 27, 1978

4

Charles E. Grassley, R-IA

Jan. 3, 1981

5

Mitch McConnell, R-KY

Jan. 3, 1985

6

Richard C. Shelby, R-AL

Jan. 3, 1987

7

John McCain, R-AZ

Jan. 3, 1987

8

Dianne Feinstein, D-CA

Nov. 4, 1992

9

Patty Murray, D-WA

Jan. 3, 1993

10

James M. Inhofe, R-OK

Nov. 16, 1994

11

Ron Wyden, D-OR

Feb. 6, 1996

12

Pat Roberts, R-KS

Jan. 3, 1997

13

Richard J. Durbin, D-IL

Jan. 3, 1997

14

Jack Reed, D-RI

Jan. 3, 1997

15

Jeff Sessions, R-AL

Jan. 3, 1997

16

Susan Collins, R-ME

Jan. 3, 1997

17

Michael B. Enzi, R-WY

Jan. 3, 1997

18

Charles E. Schumer, D-NY

Jan. 3, 1999

19

Michael D. Crapo, R-ID

Jan. 3, 1999

20

Bill Nelson, D-FL

Jan. 3, 2001

21

Thomas R. Carper, D-DE

Jan. 3, 2001

22

Debbie Stabenow, D-MI

Jan. 3, 2001

23

Maria Cantwell, D-WA

Jan. 3, 2001

24

Lisa Murkowski, R-AK

Dec. 20, 2002

25

Lindsey Graham, R-SC

Jan. 3, 2003

26

Lamar Alexander, R-TN

Jan. 3, 2003

27

John Cornyn, R-TX

Dec. 2, 2002*

28

Richard M. Burr, R-NC

Jan. 3, 2005

29

John Thune, R-SD

Jan. 3, 2005

30

Johnny Isakson, R-GA

Jan. 3, 2005

31

Robert Menendez, D-NJ

Jan. 18, 2006

32

Benjamin L. Cardin, D-MD

Jan. 3, 2007

33

Bernie Sanders, I-VT

Jan. 3, 2007

34

Sherrod Brown, D-OH

Jan. 3, 2007

35

Bob Casey, D-PA

Jan. 3, 2007

36

Bob Corker, R-TN

Jan. 3, 2007

37

Claire McCaskill, D-MO

Jan. 3, 2007

38

Amy Klobuchar, D-MN

Jan. 3, 2007

39

Sheldon Whitehouse, D-RI

Jan. 3, 2007

40

Jon Tester, D-MT

Jan. 3, 2007

41

John A. Barrasso, R-WY

June 22, 2007

42

Roger Wicker, R-MS

Dec. 31, 2007

43

Tom Udall, D-NM

Jan. 3, 2009

44

Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH

Jan. 3, 2009

45

Mark Warner, D-VA

Jan. 3, 2009

46

Jim Risch, R-ID

Jan. 3, 2009

47

Jeff Merkley, D-OR

Jan. 3, 2009

48

Michael Bennet, D-CO

Jan. 22, 2009

49

Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY

Jan. 27, 2009

50

Al Franken, D-MN

Jul. 7, 2009

51

Joe Manchin, D-WV

Nov. 15, 2010

52

Chris Coons, D-DE

Nov. 15, 2010

53

Roy Blunt, R-MO

Jan. 3, 2011

54

Jerry Moran, R-KS

Jan. 3, 2011

55

Rob Portman, R-OH

Jan. 3, 2011

56

John Boozman, R-AR

Jan. 3, 2011

57

Pat Toomey, R-PA

Jan. 3, 2011

58

John Hoeven, R-ND

Jan. 3, 2011

59

Marco Rubio, R-FL

Jan. 3, 2011

60

Ron Johnson, R-WI

Jan. 3, 2011

61

Rand Paul, R-KY

Jan. 3, 2011

62

Richard Blumenthal, D-CT

Jan. 3, 2011

63

Mike Lee, R-UT

Jan. 3, 2011

64

Dean Heller, R-NV

May 9, 2011

65

Brian Schatz, D-HI

Dec. 27, 2012

66

Tim Scott, R-SC

Jan. 3, 2013

67

Tammy Baldwin, D-WI

Jan. 3, 2013

68

Jeff Flake, R-AZ

Jan. 3, 2013

69

Joe Donnelly, D-IN

Jan. 3, 2013

70

Chris Murphy, D-CT

Jan. 3, 2013

71

Mazie Hirono, D-HI

Jan. 3, 2013

72

Martin Heinrich, D-NM

Jan. 3, 2013

73

Angus King, I-ME

Jan. 3, 2013

74

Tim Kaine, D-VA

Jan. 3, 2013

75

Ted Cruz, R-TX

Jan. 3, 2013

76

Elizabeth Warren, D-MA

Jan. 3, 2013

77

Deb Fischer, R-NE

Jan. 3, 2013

78

Heidi Heitkamp, D-ND

Jan. 3, 2013

79

Edward Markey, D-MA

July 16, 2013

80

Cory Booker, D-NJ

Oct. 31, 2013

81

Shelley Moore Capito, R-WV

Jan. 3, 2015

82

Gary Peters, D-MI

Jan. 3, 2015

83

Bill Cassidy, R-LA

Jan. 3, 2015

84

Cory Gardner, R-CO

Jan. 3, 2015

85

James Lankford, R-OK

Jan. 3, 2015

86

Tom Cotton, R-AR

Jan. 3, 2015

87

Steve Daines, R-MT

Jan. 3, 2015

88

Mike Rounds, R-SD

Jan. 3, 2015

89

David Perdue, R-GA

Jan. 3, 2015

90

Thom Tillis, R-NC

Jan. 3, 2015

91

Joni Ernst, R-IA

Jan. 3, 2015

92

Ben Sasse, R-NE

Jan. 3, 2015

93

Dan Sullivan, R-AK

Jan. 3, 2015

94

Chris Van Hollen, D-MD

Jan. 3, 2017

95

Todd Young, R-IN

Jan. 3, 2017

96

Tammy Duckworth, D-IL

Jan. 3, 2017

97

Maggie Hassan, D-NH

Jan. 3, 2017

98

Kamala Harris, D-CA

Jan. 3, 2017

99

John Kennedy, R-LA

Jan. 3, 2017

100

Catherine Cortez Masto, D-NV

Jan. 3, 2017

* Phil Gramm resigned early, effective Nov. 30, 2002, so that Cornyn could move into his office suite and begin organizing his staff. Cornyn did not, however, gain seniority, owing to a 1980 Rules Committee policy established by Sen. Claiborne Pell that no longer gave seniority to senators who entered Congress early for the purpose of gaining advantageous office space.

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