Transcript: Chris Murphy on "Face the Nation," March 8, 2020

Murphy says government has "no concept of the scope" of coronavirus spread

The following is a transcript of an interview with Senator Chris Murphy that aired Sunday, March 8, 2020, on "Face the Nation."


MARGARET BRENNAN: We're back now with Connecticut Democratic Senator Chris Murphy, who is on the Senate committee that oversees healthcare. Connecticut is one of the 33 states with confirmed cases of coronavirus. Senator, it's good to have you here this morning. And I'm sorry to hear about what's happening in my home state--

SENATOR CHRIS MURPHY: Right.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --of Connecticut. How many cases do you think there are right now? There are two that have been reported.

SEN. MURPHY: Oh, listen, I imagine we have hundreds, if not thousands of cases in my state. I think we have no concept of the scope of this epidemic yet because we have not been able to test. And the fact of the matter is we can't make good judgments about the measures we should be taking in Seattle or in Danbury or Hartford unless we are able to do these tests. And what is unforgivable is that the administration didn't see this coming and didn't put the resources in early to make sure that everybody had these tests available. But we are likely going to have to take much stronger measures as time goes on. But nobody understands where the epidemic is the worst until we get tests widely deployed.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Now, the administration says there are tests in the pipeline. They said about a million were sent out for delivery, arrival on Friday. Are you seeing that in Connecticut?

SEN. MURPHY: We are not seeing that in Connecticut. We now have private lab capacity to do tests. But our understanding is that we are nowhere near that number that was proffered by the administration last year of a million. We are doing a lot more screening in our state, but we do not have the ability to give a test to everyone who wants one, as the president said was the case on Friday afternoon. And that is incredibly concerning given the fact that we saw this epidemic coming. We could have made a decision back in January or February to accept the WHO test that was available to us or start putting serious resources into developing our own test. The administration did neither and they did neither, MARGARET, because this president has created a culture of misinformation in which no one wants to give him bad news. And that created a disincentive in the White House and in the administration to come up with an early test.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who we just heard from and is going to be on 60 Minutes, said the risk to the average American of contracting the virus is low. And even if they contract it, the risk of a serious outcome is low. So is the anxiety outpacing reality?

SEN. MURPHY: Well, I think that is right, that for each individual American, the risk is still low. But if we do get into a situation where we are taking measures on a city-by-city or state-by-state basis in which there are massive school closures, all of a sudden the effect on the average American is very high. And we are simply not ready to be able to support families if schools are closed for two weeks or three weeks in certain municipalities or certain states. And we could have been doing that planning well before now.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You've been briefed because you sit on this committee. Should we be expecting school closures around the country?

SEN. MURPHY: So I think we need to be prepared for school closures and business closures. And we need to understand that no city is going to take those measures unless there is some assistance from the federal government. So what we should be talking about right now are things like paid sick leave, putting the federal government in a position to be able to assist workers if they have to stay home to take care of a sick child or to quarantine themselves. Instead, we're talking about industry bailouts and tax cuts. We should be talking about assistance for average Americans. And that's not a conversation that's happening.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But that- how much of that is in the court of the state governments? I mean, we're talking about the federal government needing to respond here, but it's governors like Governor Inslee who are on the front lines needing to react first.

SEN. MURPHY: Right. And listen, the first wave of federal assistance to states will help. The states now have some additional resources to stand up more response efforts. But again, that money came way too late. We were begging the administration for an emergency supplemental back in February, and they refused to give it. They refused to come to Congress to ask for that money. And I'm glad Congress came to the rescue last week, but that money could have been out the door a lot earlier.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had really sharp words for the Chinese this week. And he said- he basically put some blame on them for not sharing information earlier. And he indicated that is inhibiting the- the response with the vaccine. Has- is that real? Is that what's affecting the U.S. response?

SEN. MURPHY: Well, the Chinese early on, were not sharing information. So, that is correct. They have been much more forthcoming since then. But what is inhibiting our response in the United States is in part a president who is lying to the American people, who is telling them that a vaccine is a couple of months away, who's telling everybody that they can get tested if they want. If we really want to talk about what is going to potentially create panic in this country, it's an administration that's just not being straight with the American public about the extent of this epidemic and the real-life consequences that could be put upon Americans.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The- the administration says that that was just an issue with phrasing on part of the president there. But we'll talk to the surgeon general ahead on the program. I want to ask you about Afghanistan. Another extraordinary week. President Trump had a 35-minute phone call with one of the founding members of the Taliban. They're responsible for the death of thousands of Americans. They harbored al-Qaida. Here's what he said about that call.

(BEGIN CLIP)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Other presidents have tried and they have been unable to get any kind of an agreement. The relationship is very good that I have with the mullah.

(END CLIP)

MARGARET BRENNAN: "The relationship is very good with the mullah." That's an extraordinary statement. You've read the classified parts of this agreement. You can't share the details. But is he- is he essentially right? He got a deal the last administration couldn't. Is this a good one?

SEN. MURPHY: So, I don't think this is a good deal with the Taliban. He had made promises that there wouldn't be prisoner releases. There are reportedly massive prisoner releases as a requirement of this deal. At--

MARGARET BRENNAN: May not happen.

SEN. MURPHY: At the- right. May not happen. At the same time, though, I have generally been supportive of the idea of sitting down and trying to negotiate an agreement with the Taliban in which they agree to never again harbor terrorists that may attack the United States in exchange for a phased U.S. withdrawal. What we are doing today is not working. Another 20 years of U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan is not the answer. So I think it was inevitable that the deal this president cut was not going to be as good as a deal that the Obama administration could have cut. But I don't know what the alternative was to having these conversations.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Senator Murphy, thank you for joining us. 

SEN. MURPHY: Thank you. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: And good luck to you. We will be right back with the surgeon general for an update on the government's efforts to contain the virus.