Rep. Murphy (D-Florida) was born in Vietnam shortly after the Vietnam War, at a time when the new communist government was consolidating power and implementing socialist economic policies.
In those efforts, “they were persecuting people who had been affiliated with the U.S. military and the South Vietnamese government,” Rep. Murphy explained when, last week, she addressed the Young Agents & InsurPac State Chairpersons Legislative Luncheon during the 2019 Big “I" Legislative Conference. “My parents were one of each.”
Rep. Murphy’s mother and father wanted “what every parent wants for their kids,” she said: “The opportunity to live a life of freedom without fear and persecution.” The family escaped Vietnam on a boat with several other families—and they ran out of fuel when they reached the South China Sea. A U.S. Navy ship responded to the SOS call with enough food, fuel and water for the boat to make it to a Malaysian refugee camp and, later, to the U.S.
“When I look back on it, that moment has defined my life,” said Rep. Murphy, who is the first Vietnamese American woman to serve in Congress. “It was the first moment I encountered what I believe makes America great: a unique combination of power and generosity. It’s power that enables that ship to be patrolling the waters thousands of miles from shore, and it’s generosity that enables people who are trained for combat to extend grace to desperate strangers.”
That early experience made her “deeply indebted” to the U.S. “This country has done so much for me that it’s hard for me to think about it being torn apart between red America and blue America,” said Rep. Murphy, who spent several years working for the Secretary of Defense. “All the time I spent at the Pentagon working to keep this country safe, never once did I look left or right and say, ‘Hey, are you a Democrat or a Republican?’ It was always about mission—staying focused on what we’re trying to achieve together, and moving forward in that direction.”
That mindset and background “shape the way I approach my job,” explained Rep. Murphy, who now represents Florida's 7th Congressional District, including downtown Orlando, Maitland, Winter Park and the University of Central Florida. “It probably sounds like a cliché, but I really see myself as a patriot—somebody who loves this country, not necessarily a politician. I’m not a partisan warrior. I don’t believe my party has a monopoly on good ideas. My party affiliation matters to me, but doing what’s right by my constituents and my conscience matters more.”
How does that translate to her role in Congress, where she serves on the influential House Ways and Means Committee and co-chairs the moderate Blue Dog caucus? “My primary mission is to try to get good bills over the line,” she explained. “We hear lots of great ideas these days, but the reality is the only ideas that help this country are the ones that can actually become law. That means they have to be ideas that can pass a divided Congress.”
At a time when Republicans hold the power in the U.S. Senate and Democrats hold the power in the U.S. House of Representatives, “nothing is possible unless there’s bipartisan support,” said Rep. Murphy, who is also a member of the Subcommittee on Trade and the Subcommittee on Worker and Family Support. “Whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, if your benchmark is purity, we’re destined to not make any progress. Progress, even if it’s incremental, is the entire point of public service.”
First elected to Congress in 2017, Rep. Murphy has emerged as a leading moderate Democratic voice on the need for bipartisanship to address issues like drug costs and infrastructure. “As a champion of small businesses, I think it’s a real shame that regulatory legislation—though responsible and reasonable ones are needed—too often create drag on our economy,” she said. “Small business owners are people who are just trying to do their jobs.”
Rep. Murphy isn’t shy about her stance as a “proud capitalist,” she said—but “we need a democratic capitalist system where everyone gets a fair shot,” she clarified. “My story, the American Dream story, is too often out of reach for a lot of people. I want to keep working to make it better as opposed to tossing the model out and adopting a model that I have definitely seen the darker sides of.”
At the end of her address, Rep. Murphy emphasized the importance of fighting for small business priorities like securing a long-term reauthorization for the NFIP. “I continue to hold out hope that Congress will put people over politics, get it done on time, and get it done correctly,” she said.
And goals like that are exactly what make events like the annual Big “I” Legislative Conference so important, Rep. Murphy pointed out: “You are the subject matter experts. You’re on the front lines, and your advocacy helps us develop laws that don’t have unintended consequences.”
Jacquelyn Connelly is IA senior editor.