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Transcript: New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy on "Face the Nation," February 13, 2022

New Jersey governor explains move to lift mask mandate
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy explains decision to lift COVID-19 mask mandate 06:05

The following is a transcript of an interview with New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy that aired Sunday, February 13, 2022, on "Face the Nation."

MARGARET BRENNAN: We go now to Governor Phil Murphy of New Jersey. He was the first of several blue state governors this week to announce plans to roll back statewide mask mandates in schools. Good morning to you, governor.


MARGARET BRENNAN: The CDC says we are not there yet. You say you're following the science, so what do you know that the CDC director does not?

MURPHY: Yeah, I think New Jersey's Scott Gottlieb hit this point very well. Our numbers are- are improving and I would use the word dramatically, rate of transmission, positivity rate, hospitalizations, cases, in-school transmissions, all going in a dramatically good direction. The- the- challenge is this- this spike, this- this variant has spiked straight up, and it's now coming straight down. New Jersey, New York, got hit early in this wave, as we have in all of the waves. The fact of the matter is our experience is very different right now from the average American state's experience. So, the CDC, which we have been adherent to from the get-go, and we think they're doing a terrific job, they've just got a much more complex reality. The- the science and the data and the facts on the ground in New Jersey have allowed us to take this step.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, CDC still says you're at a high transmission level, but I want to ask you about- in Virginia, the Republican governor here, right nearby Washington, D.C.- is locked in court battles over his decision to pull back mask mandates. He made that call back in January. Did you fear similar political blowback? I mean, did you look at that example?

MURPHY: Now, listen, I think they've done it- with great respect, they've done that backwards. They basically banned mandates and- and- and then said to the districts sue us to get that overturned. We've done the exact opposite. In other words, we're lifting the mask mandate, by the way, on March 7th, so we gave ourselves a four week runway and then allowed districts or individuals as they so choose to- to put local mandates or wear masks in place.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But for those local districts, I mean, aren't you just kind of transferring a political problem down to a more local level? How do those school districts, how do those mayors, how do they make the call? What benchmarks are you specifically giving them on whether it's safe to advise lifting those masks or not?

MURPHY: Yeah- we have got the virus at least as we sit here, Margaret, and every time you think you've got to figure it out, it humbles you, it takes a turn you don't expect. But as best we can tell right now, this thing is going from pandemic to endemic. And we feel it is the responsible step to take to allow districts, if they so choose, based on their local health realities, working with their local health officers to- to make a decision on their own. My gut tells me, particularly as we get into warmer weather in the spring and assuming the virus continues to go in the right direction, you'll have the overwhelming amount of districts following suit and lifting the mandate.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Did you get any timeline from the White House, from the CDC at all on when they will give federal guidelines to do what you're doing?

MURPHY: We have not, although w-we think that the Biden administration has done an outstanding job managing this, but again, they've got a much more complex reality. This isn't one of these earlier waves where the curves went sort of- sweeping over months up and sweeping over months down. This thing goes up like a rocket ship, and it's straight down. I'm sure it's only a matter of time until we see federal guidance.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you- you know- as a Democrat, your thoughts here, going into these races, you just went through an election yourself. Former President Obama spoke this week to House Democrats and told them to take the wins you can get, it doesn't help to whine about stuff you can't change. Do you feel like Democrats are in a defensive crouch going into these midterm races?

MURPHY: I'm not sure, Margaret, defensive crouch, but I- I would say that we're probably focused a lot more on what we have not been able to get done, a lot more on process, than we have on the historic things that we have got done as a party. I mean, the president and Congress have gotten a bipartisan infrastructure law that is historic. The American Rescue Plan money's historic- by the way, a lot of which have yet to be spent. I think we should celebrate, just to pick those two examples and- and- and- remind folks why they got done and who delivered the goods for them.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But when it comes to political liabilities, one of the things we've seen in our polling, is the lived experience of Americans, and they experience the economy through the prices they pay- inflation at seven and a half percent- is this the biggest political liability for Democrats or is that just not how you see things?

MURPHY: I think it's a challenge for Democrats, for sure. I- I think and I'll put myself in this category early on, we talked a lot about whether this was transitory, how deep and- and- and- and impactful it would be. The fact of the matter is it's real. It's here. My guess is it's here for the balance of this calendar year. We've done a lot in- in our state as it relates to affordability. So I think anything Democrats can do- we- we've passed 14 tax cuts for the middle class of working families and seniors in our first term- steps like that, making health care more affordable, college more affordable, property taxes more affordable, anything we could do as a party, I have to believe, will resonate because inflation is real.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Very quickly, is there a risk from this trucker convoy in these protests? I know New Jersey is a logistics hub.

MURPHY: Without question, we have one of the largest ports in the country and knocking on wood with our folks have managed it brilliantly in the context of this pandemic, but that trucker reality is a threat without question.

MARGARET BRENNAN: All right, Governor, thank you very much for your time today. We will be right back.

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