Lunch with Senator Patty Murray

Fundraising is never far from a sitting U.S. Senator’s mind, and that’s why Patty Murray was in Seattle on Friday. I’ve maxed out my annual allowed contribution, but I get invited to lunch with her anyway, and I always go. I get to be with like-minded people, and to hear the Senator talk honestly from an insider point of view. Does it make a difference in passage of the Republican tax bill whether Rand Paul is able to show up or not? No. Why did the usually sensible Lisa Murkowski announce herself a “yes” for this deficit busting payoff to the top 1%? Leader McConnell is buying votes one by one with targeted provisions that benefit certain states, like including a provision that allows for drilling in ANWR. Jobs for Alaska = yes vote from Murkowski.

Murray is the kind of Senator who’d never get the nod for a presidential run — not glitzy enough. She looks like a mom in tennis shoes, which is the tagline under which she won her first election in 1985, to the Shoreline School District Board of Directors. But she’s smart, and hard working, and gets policy enacted by working across the aisle, as in the budget deal with Paul Ryan and most recently a fix for the ACA with Lamar Alexander.  That bill is still looking to garner enough support to focusTrump’s attention.

On Friday she talked about the ACA, the tax bill, whether there’s any hope of sensible gun laws in this Congress — no on guns — and she responded to issues raised by people at the lunch, some related to very specific Washington state issues. She was in and out in an hour, not eating so she could talk freely while the rest of us enjoyed sumptuous steak or salmon salads — she got to eat hers in the car on her way to the next event. She had six events on Friday — I asked one of her two staffers. On Friday evening Murray was headed to a gathering with more than 100 20- and 30-somethings, modest donors many new to politics, who realize all of the sudden that the rights they’ve enjoyed under the last eight years of a progressive Democratic administration are under heavy assault. Trump has brought them out of the woodwork and into the political process for the first time.

I always feel slightly more hopeful after listening to Patty Murray, even though she hardly sugarcoats how bad things really are. Another interesting point: under previous administrations, both Democratic and Republican, Murray’s office could call the State Department or Energy or Education or Housing and Urban Affairs, and reach someone who knew something, had authority, and could engage on a matter of concern to Washington State residents. Under Trump, below the actual cabinet secretary, there is literally no one there. That’s true not just at State, which has gotten all the attention, but across the board. As Trump likes to tell us, he’s the only one who matters.

The hollowing out of experience and expertise is yet another trademark of the Trump administration. When he finally goes, one way or another, there’s going to be a tremendous amount to rebuild. Having people with historical memory like Patty Murray, who know how a functioning administration is supposed to work, will be crucial.

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