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Sen. Murphy Weighs In On Confirmation Hearings For DeVos And Price

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, joins us now. He's among those who questioned President-elect Trump's choice for education secretary yesterday. And today, that same committee, including Senator Murphy, hears from Tom Price, the choice for the Department of Health and Human Services.

Senator, welcome to the program.

CHRIS MURPHY: Yeah, thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: What questions do you have for Tom Price, the guy who would be overseeing the implementation of Obamacare?

MURPHY: Well, I think we're going to try to get to the bottom of this secret plan. Both Tom Price and President-elect Trump have told us that their replacement to the Affordable Care Act is going to be terrific. It's going to be wonderful. It's going to be better than what we have now, which means that everybody who has insurance can keep it, and prices are going to be lower. Of course, there's nothing that has been proposed that would do anything close to that. So a lot of the questions for Price will be trying to divine exactly how they're going to replace Obamacare and when they're going to do it.

INSKEEP: You know the president-elect gave an interview with The Washington Post over the weekend, said he wanted health care for everybody, said he wanted to have lower deductibles and many other things. Would you - would you support such a plan if one could be crafted?

MURPHY: You know, I'm with President Obama on this. If he's going to put something on the table that expands coverage, then I'm all for it. I'll rip up the Affordable Care Act and pass something better and more expansive. I'm just convinced that's not happening, and we'll see what Price says when pressed on some of these details.

INSKEEP: Your - the phone broke up there a second. I think you said you're convinced it's not happening, that there is no such plan. Let me ask about another thing. Tom Price, it's been reported by The Wall Street Journal and others, traded stocks of health care companies while in Congress working on health care legislation. Some Democrats have called this a conflict of interest. His supporters have said, in some specific cases, come on. His broker was making choices about stocks. He wasn't paying attention to this. Are you satisfied with what you've heard here?

MURPHY: I think a lot of us are concerned that this whole administration is starting to look like a get-rich-quick scheme. You've got all sorts of millionaires and billionaires who are presiding over agencies that could further enrich them. In at least one case, Tom Price bought six stocks in pharmaceutical companies that would be directly benefited by legislative action that he ended up taking just a week later. Whether his broker was doing it or not, the fact that he didn't have instructions to his broker not to be buying stocks in companies that he was directly legislating on is a conflict of interest in and of itself.

So for a lot of us that are worried that this whole Cabinet is a bunch of millionaires and billionaires that are seeking to enrich themselves, a lot of these questions for Price about his conduct and his potential conflicts of interest are very important for us to get to the bottom of what this whole administration is about.

INSKEEP: And we'll just mention, as you alluded to, his - his explanation is he didn't know what his broker was doing.

Let me ask briefly about Betsy DeVos, the nominee for education secretary. A lot was said in a hearing yesterday, but it included this one thing. She declined to say if she wants to privatize public education in some form because she's been a big advocate of school choice. Do you think she does want to do that?

MURPHY: Well, I think she absolutely does want to privatize our public schools, and she said as much. She said that she would try to convince us to pass legislation to do that. I think what was more disturbing was the fact that she didn't seem to know very much at all about some of the most important federal education laws. When pressed about the Individuals with Disabilities Act, she didn't really seem to know what it was nor what it required schools to do.

INSKEEP: One other thing, Senator Murphy. The Republican case when people push against privatizing public education is that Democrats are just trying to protect teachers' unions. Is that what you're doing?

MURPHY: I think both parents, teachers and kids don't want public schools to be closed to benefit for-profit, private operators, which is who she has generally represented. I think that's a very dangerous trend line for our public schools, and that's what we're trying to fight against.

INSKEEP: OK, Senator Murphy, thanks for taking the time this morning. Really appreciate it.

MURPHY: Thanks a lot.

INSKEEP: Chris Murphy is a Democratic senator from Connecticut. The committee that he sits on heard from Betsy DeVos yesterday, the nominee for education secretary, and hears today from Tom Price, the choice for Department of Health and Human Services. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.