Commentary

In Senate race, question of cease-fire in Gaza reveals contrast between Tammy Murphy, Andy Kim

November 27, 2023 7:11 am

Rep. Andy Kim and First Lady Tammy Murphy are seeking the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate next June. (Edwin J. Torres/Rich Hundley III/Governor’s Office)

Sometimes asking politicians a simple yes-or-no question can be quite revealing.

It can tell you when someone doesn’t want to answer a question or take a position, it can tell you how good someone is at BS’ing, and it can tell you when someone is utterly unprepared for what they do.

I’m thinking of this today because we had a brief chat with First Lady Tammy Murphy last week after Murphy held a maternal health event in Newark that was definitely one related to her duties as first lady and definitely not a taxpayer-funded effort to boost her brand-new campaign to join the U.S. Senate. Murphy, a Democrat, wants to succeed Sen. Bob Menendez.

When the event ended, Murphy huddled with reporters, and, after lightly grousing that there weren’t a lot of questions about the event itself, agreed to take some queries about her campaign and what she would do as a U.S. senator.

Here’s one posed by our Sophie Nieto-Muñoz: “Do you support a cease-fire in Gaza?”

Pretty straight-forward question, right? You either support a cease-fire, or you don’t. I’ll add that this was before Israel and Hamas had agreed to a pause in fighting and the release of some hostages.

I’m including all of Murphy’s response to us because I think it’s telling:

“So, let me say that, let me take a step back. I think that the leaders around our world are, here and now, trying to figure out how to bring this to a safe conclusion. We cannot forget that on October 7, 1,000 Israelis were savagely murdered, raped, babies put in ovens, beheaded, over 230 hostages taken, all because they’re Jewish. So I believe that Israel does have a right to defend and protect its citizens and has a right to have the safe return of those hostages. At the same time, we have all seen the images of Palestinian women, children dying, and so it is incumbent upon Israel and everyone to, while they’re working on bringing all these hostages back and while they’re trying to protect their borders, it’s incumbent upon them to abide by international and humanitarian law. Ultimately I believe that this is going to require a two-state solution and that is the only way forward.”

I don’t see a yes or a no in there, so we followed up: “Is that a yes on the cease-fire?”

Murphy responded, “I think I’ve answered you,” before taking a question from someone else.

Now, I’m not saying that the circumstances surrounding a cease-fire are not complicated, but this is a major — potentially the major — issue facing the world right now. Someone who wants to be a U.S. senator should be able to tell us their opinion on it.

I asked an insider what makes some political candidates so hesitant to answer yes-or-no questions. Do they think it’s a trap? Do they not want to pin themselves down in case they end up rethinking their position?

“A lot of candidates are just incredibly cautious about anything they say publicly, to their detriment,” they said.

The specific issue here doesn’t help, they added.

“Passions are so high on it, and I think most of the more establishment-oriented people are generally on the pro-Israel side, but the polling says many Democrats aren’t on that side. If people are going to be cautious about any issue, it would be that,” they said.

Menendez has not said whether he intends to seek reelection next year, so Murphy’s chief opponent for the Democratic nomination for Senate is Rep. Andy Kim, a Burlington County Dem who joined Congress in 2019. I talked to Kim and here’s what he said when I asked him the same question we asked Murphy:

“Well, look, right now we need to make sure we’re getting the hostages out, so I’m really focused on that. I don’t think some type of unilateral cease-fire is the right move when we have these hostages that are still held. I’ve met with a number of the families of the hostages and certainly said I would do everything I can to get them home.”

Now, I prefer a simple yes or no to a yes-or-no question, but Kim’s answer at least stakes a position: no cease-fire while Hamas is holding Israeli hostages captive. You may not agree with his opinion, but at least he has one.

Kim — who did answer follow-up questions — added that he wants to see protections for civilians in Gaza, but noted that Hamas leadership “has said several times that they plan on continuing to attack.”

“That should be terrifying. That should be deeply alarming,” he said.

Democratic voters will have a big decision to make next June, whether or not Menendez decides to seek another term. Here’s hoping Murphy doesn’t spend the next six months offering non-answers to every question.

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Terrence T. McDonald
Terrence T. McDonald

Editor Terrence T. McDonald is a native New Jerseyan who has worked for newspapers in the Garden State for more than 15 years. He has covered everything from Trenton politics to the smallest of municipal squabbles, exposing public corruption and general malfeasance at every level of government. Terrence won 23 New Jersey Press Association awards and two Tim O’Brien Awards for Investigative Journalism using the Open Public Records Act from the New Jersey chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. One politician forced to resign in disgrace because of Terrence’s reporting called him a "political poison pen journalist.”

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