These days, Democratic U.S. Sen. Patty Murray isn’t surprised to get a text from the man who may be the next speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Washington’s liberal senator and conservative Wisconsin Republican Rep. Paul Ryan are texting buddies and have been since constructing a budget agreement in 2013 in the turbulence following one of the longest government shutdowns in U.S. history.
It lasted 16 days during which barricades went up around national monuments and funding stopped flowing to programs serving children, veterans and seniors. Some 800,000 federal workers were furloughed and almost twice that many reported to work not knowing when they’d get paid.
Congress passed a short-term spending bill to end the shutdown, then its leaders tapped budget committee chiefs Ryan and Murray (Democrats still controlled the Senate) to construct a longer-term deal.
They succeeded and in the process earned one another’s respect, a valued commodity in the political marketplace.
Now, with Ryan getting intensely recruited to be the next House speaker, Murray is in a position to offer an informed view of his merits but is reluctant to say anything construable as praise out of concern for his political well-being.
“I don’t want to hurt his chances,” Murray said Tuesday in Everett after touring a job training center. “I think he’s shown that he can bring people from his side together. I think that they do need that right now but I don’t want to hurt his chances by championing him.”
A number of House Republicans voted against that 2013 agreement believing Ryan compromised too much. It’s unclear whether this will prevent many of those same GOP lawmakers from accepting him as speaker if Ryan says he will do it.
Getting a public vote of confidence from a liberal Democratic senator might not help. She wouldn’t say if she’s texted him any advice privately.
Nonetheless, Murray did put forth what amounted to an outline of a reference letter.
“Obviously he and I disagree on a lot,” she said. “But he also … is one of the adults in the room who understands our country has to function and that people have to work together to make it function.”
The federal government is headed for another malfunction. Funding runs out Dec. 11 and there will be a shutdown if Congress doesn’t act.
The threat isn’t being taken seriously enough by lawmakers or the public, Murray said.
“I’ve been nervous for awhile because I really think the intensity of where we were two years ago hasn’t been matched,” she said. “I think people just assume we’ll get it done now and they’re not aware of the inner politics of the tea party right now. They are intent on shutting it down.”
Though Murray doesn’t think the public is much concerned with who is elected House speaker, she knows nothing will happen until someone is in that seat.
Should that someone be Ryan?
“He’s in a caucus that’s pretty divided about what they want their future to be,” she said. “What he has the capability to do is to be able to hear what all factions want and to be able to deliver what he can from that.”
Maybe he’ll text her with his decision.
Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at www.heraldnet.com. Contact him at 360-352-8623; email@example.com and on Twitter at @dospueblos