STEVE INSKEEP, host:
This week on MORNING EDITION we're meeting Democratic lawmakers to ask what their party stands for as they take over Congress. Today we'll meet a new lawmaker from suburban Philadelphia whose signature issue is Iraq. Patrick Murphy is a veteran of the Iraq war.
Representative PATRICK MURPHY (Democrat, Pennsylvania): I think it's the defining issue of our generation and I believe, you know, as someone who served there, as someone who walked the streets of Baghdad in the 82nd Airborne Division, that it's three and a half years later and it's time to turn it over to the Iraqis and it's time to start bringing our men and women home.
INSKEEP: Do you believe that that was the issue that turned your Republican opponent from someone who won easily two years ago to someone who was defeated?
Rep. MURPHY: Well I think it was one of the many issues, but I think it was the most important issue.
INSKEEP: When NPR caught up with Murphy during the campaign he was pressing the Republican incumbent on that issue.
(Soundbite of previous NPR broadcast)
Rep. MURPHY: Congressman Fitzpatrick, when are you going to give the American public the straight story on where you are with the war in Iraq?
INSKEEP: To which the Republican insisted that they focus on local issues.
(Soundbite of previous NPR broadcast)
Representative MICHAEL FITZPATRICK (Republican, Pennsylvania): The question is this, Pat, how many school districts are there in Bucks County and what are their names?
INSKEEP: The Democrat could be said to win that exchange since he won the election, but he already has to focus on reelection in a Republican-leaning district and his leaders are urging him to get the local issues right, too.
Rep. MURPHY: Both Congressmen Rahm Emanuel and speaker Pelosi have been very clear on advice on what they think, you know, we should be doing as far as going back to the district as much as possible, making sure that we get a handle on constituent services. And that's what my focus is going to be on.
INSKEEP: Now you're a representative of a district that, other than this election, had been Republican since 1992; awful lot of Republicans there in an ordinary year.
Rep. MURPHY: Correct.
INSKEEP: Do you think that you can satisfy them by taking all the positions of the national Democratic Party?
Rep. MURPHY: Well, I think that I will be able to well represent the district because I will vote my conscious. And if it's a Republican idea or a Democrat idea, I will vote for the families back home. Now I'm a proud Democrat, but the reality of it is my mother is Republican, my wife was a college Republican, and I look forward to reaching across the aisle down here in Washington to work with my Republican colleagues. But let's be clear, I'm a proud Democrat and I look forward to bringing about a new direction for our country, which is much needed and much long overdue.
INSKEEP: Well, that's what I'm curious about. There are issues that your party has set up that are widely seen as popular and relatively easy vote, like voting on raising the minimum wage. I assume that's a yes for you?
Rep. MURPHY: Absolutely.
INSKEEP: What votes do you see that Democrats might be asking for your vote in the future that might be a little harder for you to do because of the kind of the district you represent and what you believe?
Rep. MURPHY: Well, I'm a member of the Blue Dog Coalition, fiscal conservatives that believe that we should have a pay-as-you-go system.
INSKEEP: Blue Dog Coalition, that's a group of moderate to conservative Democrats.
Rep. MURPHY: Well, there's 44 of us that are members of this coalition that look forward on attack the problems that our nation is facing with both fiscal discipline and strong national defense. If we want to put forth a piece of legislation that's going to help out people which is a good piece of legislation, I'll support it. But we have to figure out first how we're going to pay for it because we cannot keep racking up these record debts and these deficits.
INSKEEP: What are you going to do when Democrats come, as they are promising to do, and say they want to improve healthcare for Americans but it's going to cost a lot of money?
Rep. MURPHY: I'll sit there with them and I'll say let's make sure that we do everything possible that we can pay for it. Because we do need to fix this system so that, you know, there aren't children, there aren't people in America that go without healthcare.
INSKEEP: What about the so-called social issues, abortion, gay marriage?
Rep. MURPHY: Well, you know, I taught constitutional Law at West Point. And if we're talking about things like equality, I believe in it. If we're talking about things like our right to privacy, I believe in that.
INSKEEP: Although that gets, then still, the question of abortion and gay marriage.
Rep. MURPHY: Well, I believe that part of the right to privacy includes a woman's right to choose.
INSKEEP: So you're pretty much with your party on that one?
Rep. MURPHY: I would say so.
INSKEEP: And gay marriage?
Rep. MURPHY: It's an equality issue that if there's people that are in a loving relationship, if they want to go get a civil union, they should be able to.
INSKEEP: Would you hope that Democrats focus on those social issues or leave them alone?
Rep. MURPHY: I think this 110th Congress, under the leadership of Speaker Pelosi, will really be able to focus, to say listen, these are the first things we need to tackle because they are long overdue; to raise the minimum wage, making sure that we negotiate the buy drugs in bulk, the making college more affordable, the implementing the 9/11 Commission recommendations. And once we accomplish those things, of course we've got to turn and make sure that we do, you know, what's necessary on the other issues.
INSKEEP: That's congressman Patrick Murphy. He's a freshman from Pennsylvania.
Tomorrow our series of conversations with Democratic lawmakers continues with Senator Jim Webb, newly elected from Virginia. It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.
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