Sen. Murphy holds town hall at Ludlowe
FAIRFIELD — From a stage lined with posters calling on students to “march,” “write a letter to President Trump” or “sign a petition,” Sen. Christopher Murphy, D-Conn., called on students to become politically engaged and reject an intolerant or exclusive view of their country, regardless of their political beliefs.
“We need your voice now more than ever before,” he said.
While some of Murphy’s Republican colleagues have returned to contentious town hall-style meetings with agitated constituents, the Connecticut Senator faced a welcoming crowd Thursday in the Fairfield Ludlowe High School auditorium in the town he called his “second home.” He explained some of his positions, said he has yet to make up his mind on Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch and reiterated support for an independent commission to investigate the Trump campaign’s relations with Russia.
U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut Deirdre M. Daly, who grew up in Fairfield and was a nominee of former President Barack Obama, joined the senator to speak to the packed room of students, teachers and several local officials as part of a non-partisan student campaign to encourage civic engagement and voter registration amongst classmates.
Murphy told students of his path into politics, then warned of recent scapegoating of Muslims, Mexican people, transgender youth and other groups and called on the young students to stand against it.
“Unfortunately, societies over the years have become unwound by this tendency to blame your neighbor, to blame somebody that looks different than you, that talks different than you, that maybe worships a slightly different version of God than you. And this is one of those moments,” he said, later adding, “You may not agree with me and my political views, but building a loving, tolerant, inclusive America — that shouldn’t have anything to do with politics or partisanship.”
Student asked their senator a range of questions. One asked Murphy whether he will vote to confirm President Donald J. Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch, whose Senate hearing begins March 20. Murphy met with the Republican president’s pick last week, is now reviewing his record and plans to come to a decision in the coming weeks or months.
“He’s very impressive, he’s very thoughtful, he’s very smart,” Murphy said. “My concern — and this would be my concern with any judge not just Judge Gorsuch — is that I don’t want a judge bringing their politics into the Supreme Court. I want a judge who can interpret the law and not be activist.”
Another student asked if Trump or his campaign were found guilty of colluding with Russia, what would happen moving forward, a question sparked by the recent resignation of the President’s former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn amidst findings of his potentially illegal contacts with Russia’s ambassador.
Murphy said he declined to deal in hypotheticals but that he hopes and prays there was no “coordination or collusion” between Trump’s campaign and officials of the foreign power.
“We already know the administration has been reluctant to provide us with the facts regarding contact that members of the White House had with the Russian government prior to the election, and so it stands to reason that maybe they are also withholding other information about what contacts happened between the campaign and Russian government. So I’m very supportive of having an independent commission look into all of these questions so we can get some answers...” he said. “We deserve to get to the bottom of it, and let’s let the facts and findings lead us wherever they go.”
Gun control, the Every Student Succeeds Act, Murphy’s recently-passed mental health bill, college debt, holding Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to enforcing legal protections for students with disabilities and marijuana legalization — to much applause — were among other topics students raised.
Daly, U.S. Attorney, fielded her own set of questions, some touching on her role under shifting bosses — from former Attorney General Loretta Lynch to Jeff Sessions, recently confirmed to helm the Justice Department.
But Daly said her job comes with “tremendous discretion” and she has focused on “vulnerable victims,” including the elderly who are more likely to fall victim to financial crimes, child or underage victims of sex trafficking or child pornography, the environment and victims of civil rights crimes. She intends to continue the emphasis, though some elements of her focus will likely shift.
Sessions, Trump Attorney General appointee, indicated later Thursday he will be reversing a recent effort to curtail private prison use, a measure Daly discussed had been a focus.
Under the Obama administration, Daly’s directive was to increase community outreach, of which she said, “here in Connecticut we have taken that to heart,” with public efforts outside the courtroom to combat the opioid epidemic, encourage community policing and combat high prison recidivism rates.
While there may be a focus shift — perhaps away from community outreach and toward illegal immigration or other Trump administration focuses — Daly said her job is not a political office and ultimately, “our master is only to do the right thing.”
Daly is the first woman to ever serve as U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut, following 225 years of male attorneys in the position. She does believe doors were often opened for her because of her gender, with employers were looking to hire women because they had not in the past. Still, she has witnessed sexism at play.
“Things happened that today I’m still taken aback by,” she said. A Connecticut police chief once told her that another woman was not the right fit for a job simply because she was a woman. “Biases and prejudices against women and minorities, et cetera still exist. I think it’s important when these things happen to stand up and speak up and say that’s not appropriate.”
As the district’s U.S. Attorney, Daly has mostly hired women, based on merit alone, she specified. The office is now roughly equal in terms of gender representation.
Frank Scott Bunnell High School, a Stratford public school, and Fairfield Warde High School bused students to Ludlowe for the town hall. Give Campaign, a student movement started in a Ludlowe AP U.S. History class, invited Murphy and Daly to speak.