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Senators Chris Murphy & Joe Manchin on "State of the Union"

Senators Chris Murphy & Joe Manchin on "State of the Union"

By State of the Union - January 13, 2013

CROWLEY: Tomorrow marks one month since the deadly rampage at Sandy Hook elementary school. Newtown, Connecticut, has done what no other shooting has, prompted what may be decisive changes to gun laws.

Joining me now is Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy. Senator, you are in Newtown today and I appreciate you taking the time.

Let me get a quick update from you about what we know. It has been a month. Are we any closer to understanding what motivated this shooter?

MURPHY: This is an ongoing investigation, and I think it has been very difficult for the police to find out the motive here. This guy did a pretty good job of destroying a lot of the evidence, his computer which he may have done a lot of gaming and correspondence on was ruined by the time that they got to the house. And although we expect that there will be a report, and the families desperately want as much information as they can get, we haven't gotten much yet. This community is still really grieving. This is certainly about the families of the little boys and girls who are lost, but it is also about teachers and administrators and first responders who may be in the fury of the days and weeks after the shooting didn't exactly understand how deeply this had affected them. This is going to take a long time even after that report comes out for this community to recover.

CROWLEY: Right. And the other question that I think is still outstanding there, is there any evidence that the shooter sought mental assistance or that his mother sought it for him? Was he ever in the system in any way?

MURPHY: Well, I think that's one of the big questions we're trying to answer. There certainly have been some reports that his mother understood that this was a deeply troubled individual, and that she was at or around the time of the shooting, trying to find some serious treatment option for him. But the fact is that she would have run into the roadblocks that thousands of mothers and fathers run into all across this country. There are a lot of kids who need help, and the waiting lines for mental health services are very, very long.

Clearly she knew that there was something wrong here, and was trying to figure it out, but there might not have been an option for her given the lack of funding for a lot of the services.

CROWLEY: So that turns me to what is happening in Washington now, because Newtown, you are right, it is going to take so much time to heal, and Washington has now taken up the other end of this, what can be done to prevent this, a kind of legislative look. We are hearing a lot about gun control, and I wanted to ask you because I know you heard the interview that we did with David Keene, the head of the NRA. Was there anything that he said there that you thought, OK, we can find some common ground. I should mention that you get an F from the NRA, so you are not exactly in sync with them when it comes to some of these issues, but is there some commonality there that you heard that is helpful?

MURPHY: Well, listen, if they want to work on funding for mental health services, then let's go to work on it. But what they have proposed is a national registry of everyone in this country who is mentally ill. You want to talk about an abridgment of the Bill of Rights. Let's talk about what that would mean to the people who have been diagnosed with depression, who would all of a sudden find themselves on a list.

The fact is that the NRA does not represent gun owners anymore. This is not your father's NRA. It represents gun manufacturers. Less than half of their funding comes from their members, and they make tens of millions of dollars off of the purchases of guns. But what your guest didn't tell you is that every time -- not every time, but when assault weapons and high-capacity magazines are bought in this country, often the NRA gets a cut of those sales through its round-up purchase program, where the purchase price is rounded up to the nearest dollar, and the NRA gets the difference. The NRA makes money. They pay their salaries off of these gun purchases. That is who they are representing in this debate.

CROWLEY: So, Mr. Keene also said that he believes right now that there is enough strength in the Senate and the House to block a ban -- how do we put this so it's not a double negative -- to keep a ban from assault weapons from going into place. Do you agree with that?

MURPHY: No, I think that he is wrong. I think that this issue is going to continue to move. He is right that when a president puts the full weight of their office behind legislative change, that certainly means something. And I do think that you see, even in the Democratic caucus, members like Joe Manchin and Mark Warner, who previously probably would have never considered a ban on assault weapons or high magazine -- high-capacity magazine clips now coming to the table. And even just this last week, one of the most conservative members of the House of Representatives, Phil Gingrey from Georgia, said that he would be willing to look at universal background checks and high-capacity magazine clip bans.

That is a sea change if people like that in the Republican House caucus are willing to look at this. Newtown fundamentally changed things, and the NRA just does not get this. They have got to come to the table on gun control, just as they are saying they are coming to the table on mental health, because their previous allies and backers in the House and the Senate are not with them anymore, just like (inaudible).

CROWLEY: And so let me ask you, because I know that Senator Feinstein and Senator Blumenthal are about to introduce a ban on assault weapons, what do you know about that piece of legislation?

MURPHY: Well, I'm going to be a supporter of that piece of legislation.

CROWLEY: What's in it?

MURPHY: This is a -- this I think will be a ban on assault weapons moving forward. It's a tighter ban than the previous ban, and it will address high-capacity ma magazine clips.

The fact is that as soon as we passed that ban back in the 1990s, the gun manufacturers found a way around it, and other states like New Jersey and California have passed much stricter bans, and that is what the Congress needs to do.

I get it. The NRA is going to use all of their resources to try to stop this thing, but ultimately, the people of this country have been transformed, and these assault weapons -- and they know it -- these are not used by sportsmen. You don't need an assault weapon to kill a deer, you don't need an assault weapon to do target practice. Sportsmen are not going to have their rights abridged or their ability to enjoy their sport changed by having these dangerous, military-style assault weapons taken off of the streets. CROWLEY: So, let me ask you a little bit back on the mental health issue. Does it concern you that when we are hearing things from the Biden panel, we are not hearing a lot about improving mental health services so that women like the mother of the shooter could maybe find some help? We're not hearing a lot about these videos that seem to have some sort of effect, at least on those whose minds are already a little warped. So are you concerned that this is going to become only a gun control issue?

MURPHY: I definitely want to hear us talk about mental health, because, you know, we are coming into lean budget times, and there is always I think a tendency and a risk to go after those line items that support mental health services first in these debates, so I definitely want that to be on the table.

But let's be honest, we are not always going to be able to find these individuals who on a dime turn into mad men, and what could have helped here in Newtown is a ban on assault weapons.

I have got to tell you, I fundamentally believe that if we had a ban on assault weapons and a ban on high-capacity magazine clips, this guy might never, ever have taken up arms to begin with, because what happens is these guys start to get courageous when they believe that they can walk into a school or to a movie theater with the kind of weapons that they see in these video games. There would still be little boys and girls alive in Newtown today, I believe, if you had banned assault weapons and these high-capacity magazine clips, and that is something that we can do and do now.

CROWLEY: Senator Chris Murphy, new senator from Connecticut, thanks for joining us from Newtown today.

MURPHY: Thanks, Candy.

CROWLEY: When we return, bridging the political divide in Washington and crossing the aisle to do it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: For a moment, as the new Congress gaveled in, everybody got a whiff of bipartisanship.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI, D-CALIF., MINORITY LEADER: I present the people's gavel to the speaker of the House, John Boehner.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: But now is the long winter of our political discontent, raising the debt ceiling, preventing sequestration, funding the federal government for 2013, passing gun regulations or not, and tackling immigration. The to-do list for Congress looks more like those new year's resolutions that you won't get around to.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. JOSEPH CROWLEY, D-ILLINOIS: Republicans in Congress brought this house to a new low last night.

REP. MO BROOKS, D-ALABAMA: The Senate proceeded like a bull in a china closet.

REP. SCOTT RIGELL, R-VIRGINIA: They are like salespeople who tell their customers they can have a $30,000 car, but only pay $18,000 for it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Now, a number of politicians, current and former, have joined forces to create a partisan-free environment. Called No Labels, they are pledged to one simple obligation, stop fighting and start fixing. We'll discuss congressional (inaudible) tricks, compromise and the chances for success with the No Labels chairmen, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and former Republican governor of Utah, Jon Huntsman, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: With me now, Senator Joe Manchin, Democrat from West Virginia, and former Republican presidential candidate and Utah, former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman. Thank you both for being here, joining forces here.

I have to say when I was reading about this, and I said, OK, their goal is to argue less and act more, and I'm thinking, yeah, but how do you go about that, particularly from the outside? Why is an outside group needed?

MANCHIN: Well, let me say from the No Labels standpoint, when I first became a senator two years ago, I was enamored with this, because I was -- I came from a governorship. Jon and I were freshmen governors together in 2-4, 2004, we got elected respectively in our state of Utah and West Virginia, became friends, Democrat and Republican looking to solve problems. I thought the same would carry over when I got to Washington. Candy, first you have to understand the dynamics of what we are dealing with. As a senator, we have, since I have been there two years, there has not been a bipartisan caucus where we sit down to talk with our Republican colleagues on the other side. Unless we do that behind what you see on the day-to-day basis.

Even think about taking it further, we don't even know our colleagues in Congress, the 435. So, this gives us a chance, No Labels gives us that venue to sit down and have meaningful conversation.

CROWLEY: But, you know, to have to do this just seems like you could tell 100 grown men and women, you guys need to talk to each other.

HUNTSMAN: Right. But did you hear what Joe just said? I mean, can you believe that there is not even a venue that allows people to come together to solve problems? So the premise is a very simple one. Joe and I come from a background of problem solving, as governor, and when you see that the dysfunction of Congress is now becoming our nation's dysfunction -- we are becoming disfigured, in a sense.

HUNTSMAN: Our economy is, because Congress is so far behind in the game. So the premise is a simple one, and that is that we want to create a new attitude around problem solving.

Now how do you do that? You have got to get a critical mass together of problem solvers which is what we are doing. We have got 25 signed on. And our goal by the end of the year is to have 75. So if you can imagine 75 Republicans and Democrats, Senate and House members, who agree to meet, check their ego at the door, and sit around a table where they're putting their country first as opposed to party, as opposed to the next election they're thinking about the future when they deliberate about these very important issues, that is the objective. And so far as I can tell, Candy, and I'm a recent convert to this, they came to me most recently, there is nobody else in the world of movements now that is focused on bringing people together around the premise of problem solving.

CROWLEY: Well, certainly, there have been out there with Third Way, and a lot of groups out there that have sort of tried this, it's just in reality, you get, you know, bipartisanship on Capitol Hill tends to be, if you agree with me, then you are being bipartisan.

So let me try to get you to apply bipartisanship to the current issues.

Let's take gun control. I think we can pretty much see what the lines of delineation are here. You heard the NRA. You hear those -- some moderates and those on the left going, now wait a second, it can't be about guns, it's about society, it's about mental health. So you have these two sides that to me sound a lot like, you know, ten years ago when they were arguing.

MANCHIN: Well, Candy, you have two former governors that were raised in cultures of guns.

CROWLEY: West Virginia, Utah.

MANCHIN: I've been an NRA member. I'm a life member. I'm A- rated. I have always been supported. And I appreciate all the support I've received. I appreciate all of my friends that I have in the sporting arenas and hunting I hunt with and all of that.

I was taught at a very young age to use it safely, to respect the firearms, and make sure that I passed it down to my children and grandchildren. With all of that being said, never in my life could I imagine that I would see a time where mass violence has escalated to the point where 20 children, let's say 20 babies in their kindergarten were slaughtered. That has changed...

CROWLEY: And that's how everyone felt -- all sides of this one -- holy cow. MANCHIN: From that violence. But this has changed. We owe it to sit down and talk, but it has to be comprehensive. It can't be just -- it's about guns and guns only. It can't be just about the mental illness or the lack of mental illness care that we have. And it can't be just about the video violence in the media.

I want every NRA member, I want every gun, law-abiding gun owner to know their second amendment rights will not be infringed upon, the same as the first amendment will not be infringed upon. But as adults, we have a responsibility to sit down and have an adult dialogue and try to have a comprehensive package that works.

CROWLEY: You know we've had an adult dialogue about the budget deficit and we got Simpson-Bowles which everybody promptly ignored. And it's kind of going back into the conversation now. But the question is -- and I know that you have written in the op-ed -- what is reasonable, what is reasonable in terms of gun control when it comes to states who understand the gun culture and how deeply it is embedded in the culture of some of the states?

HUNTSMAN: Well, it has to be a little bit from all of the above. And that's why, you know, you're show...

CROWLEY: Should there be an assault weapons ban?

HUNTSMAN: Well, listen, we've heard from the special interest groups. We're hearing from, you know, one end of the spectrum or that end of the spectrum. But in the end, our duly elected officials get together with an open mind and, then, make decisions on behalf of the people they represent. And that is where getting back to No Labels is so important.

You know, we've got the politics of right and left and center, but we have forgotten the most important part of all, and that's the politics of problem solving, representing the people in all that we do.

What we are doing today isn't normal. And for the younger generation growing up seeing the way that politics is playing out, this is not the norm and that is why Joe and I coming from the backgrounds we do, you get the right and the left together in a room, whether it is on guns or anything else, and you say what is the pathway forward, how do we solve this for the American people?

CROWLEY: What is -- I mean, you have called for reasonable gun -- but what is reasonable to you? Is an assaults weapons ban such as the one we are about to get from Dianne Feinstein and Senator Blumenthal of Connecticut, is that reasonable? MANCHIN: First of all, how do you keep the guns such as assault guns out of the hands of mentally deranged people that should have -- should have help?

CROWLEY: ...seems to be commonality.

MANCHIN: And that's where it seems to be, whether -- if you look back at the Virginia Tech, the gentleman had been I think detained twice, only for 48 hours, because of the laws we may have. How do we...

CROWLEY: But it didn't apply in Arizona, because he apparently hadn't saw anything. Colorado, he apparently...

MANCHIN: So basically, but that is a huge part. The other part of it is what type of weapons, how registration, how they are getting in hands. So all of that is reasonable to talk about.

There is a premise now in Washington that guilt by conversation. It used to be guilt by association, we've moved on to guilt by conversation. We can't even sit down and have conversations about can you talk about any of these issues whether it is the clips and whether it is registration and whether it is bans on certain military -- you can't even talk about it. And if you don't have the people who are understanding that, the people that basically have expertise in that at the table, and if you keep pushing the NRA away, they have got to sit down. They have got to be -- have a responsible place at the table.

And I have kept, and I'm pushing that. I want them to be there. But I want the people that understand mental illness. I want the people that understand the video games.

CROWLEY: The holistic approach.

HUNTSMAN: Here's why what Joe is saying is so important and why the No Labels dimension I think is so relevant here. Regardless of whether it's guns or whether tax reform or immigration or energy policy, it's all the same. They're going to have to come to the table with a comprehensive package. In the case of guns, you know the three or four components that will have to be included in the end. It's kind of a no-brainer for most, but we have a hard time getting there. That's why bringing together this coalition of problem solvers in congress that No Labels has been able to, it's a start. But by the end of the year, if we get 75 to 80 such people, you can imagine the progress on all of these important issues we'll be able to make.

CROWLEY: So senator, I'm going to give you the last word here, because now are a position that you do vote in the senate, and your words post Newtown were taken originally as, oh, Senator Manchin is now for a ban on assault weapons, probably what you were talking about.

MANCHIN: Guilt by conversation.

CROWLEY: The guilt by conversation. So the question here is, am I correct in interpreting what you're saying is that, sure, you would talk about an assault weapons ban, but it has to be in a more holistic package than just, here's an assault weapons ban?

MANCHIN: Well, let me just tell you about No Labels and problem solvers and to be a member of that doesn't cost a thing. It's NoLabels.org, just sign on.

But with that, it brings people together. So I can talk about -- I want to know. I don't own an assault weapon. I own guns. I don't have the multi-clips. I need to talk to people that believe it's important for them to keep multi-clips. I need to talk to the people that basically think they need those assault weapons. I need to talk to people that go to gun shows don't believe they need to register. I want to hear from them.

Why is it so important you're protecting that position?

On the other hand, they're saying, how come you're not looking at the mental illness that we have and the people that are causing these mass violence, how come you're not looking at the video games that my eight year old can log into and see and really glorify violence. And it really is an all-inclusive approach, you know, it's building a consensus.

And you have to take it that way.

CROWLEY: If I can just get a yes or no, possibly, assault weapons only stand alone ban...

MANCHIN: Assault weapons stand alone ban on just gun alone will not in the political reality that we have today will not go anywhere. It has to be comprehensive, Candy, and that is what I have tried to tell the vice president and I've told everybody, it has to be a comprehensive approach.

CROWLEY: Senator Joe Manchin and former Governor Jon Huntsman, thank you both. Good luck. We will have you back and see how many you're collecting as you go along.

Thanks so much. 

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