Tag Archive: Chris Murphy

  1. Blumenthal, Murphy praise SalivaDirect after visiting Yale School of Public Health

    Leave a Comment

    Connecticut Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal visited the Yale medical campus Tuesday morning and met with Yale scientists to discuss SalivaDirect, the new saliva-based testing protocol developed at Yale and validated with a study funded by the NBA. Among these Yale professionals were Dean of the Yale School of Medicine Nancy Brown and Dean of the Yale School of Public Health Sten Vermund.

    The initial research on using saliva samples was led by Anne Wyllie, associate research scientist in epidemiology, and Nathan Grubaugh, assistant professor of epidemiology. After obtaining promising results, they partnered with the NBA to validate the testing method on a larger cohort. The new saliva-based testing protocol received Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Aug. 15.

    Both U.S. senators gathered on the lawn outside of Edward S. Harkness Memorial Hall after their meeting to reflect on how they envision SalivaDirect helping the state fight COVID-19.

    “This test is potentially a world-shaking, really game-changing breakthrough because it can reduce the cost, raise reliability and make detection and screening much faster,” Blumenthal said. “It can produce a low cost, very sensitive and very reliable kind of test that offers, right now, massive potential results for the country.”

    Blumental and Murphy applauded Yale researchers for committing to keep SalivaDirect inexpensive. After the protocol received EAU from the FDA earlier this month, Wyllie told the News that they sought to provide each test for $10 or less. A preprint published in early August estimated that the cost of reagents for each test would fall between $1.29 and $4.37 per sample.

    Blumenthal said his goal is to help scale up SalivaDirect while keeping it inexpensive. (Photo: Charlotte Zimmer)

    “Right now we have a set of reagents and instruments that have been included in the EUA,” postdoctoral fellow Chantal Vogels, who helped lead the EUA submission for the FDA, told the News last week. “By performing bridging studies, we can include other reagents, instruments [and] automated systems. We just have to show that that works equally well as compared to the components that we’ve already included and have authorized.”

    According to Vogels, the team is also planning on conducting bridging studies — supplemental studies that collect new data to expand the scope of the initial authorization — and working to identify equipment that other laboratories would find convenient and cost-effective for administering SalivaDirect. By identifying which bridging studies to conduct, the research team can validate the protocol with new instruments before submitting data to the FDA and seeking official approval to authorize a wider range of instrumentation for the protocol.

    Running a test according to this protocol will be much cheaper than the currently available tests kits that can cost around $150, according to Wyllie. Murphy emphasized that making testing more affordable will be the key to ending this pandemic and the damage it has caused.

    “There’s no amount of economic stimulus that Congress can provide to fix what’s broken in our economy, unless we beat the virus,” Sen. Murphy said. “And the only way you can beat this virus is to be doing ten to a hundred times more testing than we are today.”

    Murphy expressed frustration with the country’s inability to conduct population testing, but said he is “really grateful” to Yale researchers who are studying how to address testing shortages and lower the costs of testing. According to Murphy, tests are currently too expensive or hard to acquire, and businesses and schools in New Haven could have difficulties testing all essential workers and students. Large-scale population testing would help Connecticut reopen schools and the economy with more confidence, he said.

    The senators both discussed what their role would be in the next steps of developing SalivaDirect.

    “Our job now is to make it available to as many people as possible, as quickly as possible,” Sen. Blumenthal said. “And I think that my goal will be to enable that it be rolled out, scaled up [and] the intellectual property protected in a way that prevents a medical device company from profiting and exploiting this test, raising the price to put it out of reach from school systems or sports leagues…”

    “I’m going to be bragging to my colleagues down in Washington about the kind of test we developed here,” Blumenthal said. (Photo: Charlotte Zimmer)

    Researchers have already been addressing the challenge of disseminating the test. Unlike other testing kits that companies sell or distribute, SalivaDirect is the first testing protocol to receive an EUA from the FDA. The protocol is open source, and researchers at Yale have the right to authorize high-complexity U.S.-based labs seeking to begin testing with SalivaDirect, though any lab that receives approval must be certified under the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments of 1988 (CLIA). 

    Although the team initially directed requests to an email address, researchers have now set up a Google Form to field authorization requests. Hundreds of emailed requests came in the 72 hours following the announcement of SalivaDirect’s EUA, Annie Watkins MPH ’21 told the News last week.

    The Yale Pathology Clinical Molecular Diagnostic Lab was the first to receive approval to use SalivaDirect, earning authorization as part of the terms of the FDA EUA. According to Pei Hui, the director of the lab, his group partnered with Grubaugh and Wyllie’s team early on to carry out the clinical validation of the testing protocol necessary for the EUA, which is something the epidemiology researchers could not do on their own.

    Hui said the lab first officially started using the protocol on Thursday, Aug. 20 and added that the approval of the Yale Pathology Clinical Molecular Diagnostic Lab for SalivaDirect is a step in the right direction when it comes to scaling up the test.

    “This is beauty. This is really significant progress in my view,” Hui said. “Being able to do saliva, the value is tremendous. I think it will be changing the COVID testing landscape in the US.”

    The lab had already been testing nasopharyngeal swabs throughout the pandemic. Hui said they expect to maintain this testing platform as they begin to incorporate saliva samples. 

    The lawn outside of Edward S. Harkness Memorial Hall, where Murphy and Blumenthal spoke on Tuesday. (Photo: Charlotte Zimmer)

    He explained that his lab is currently “limited in space and manpower,” but that they hope to expand the operation. His lab will potentially buy automatic machines and use lab space at West Campus, although this would likely take a few months to set up, Hui added.

    The researchers involved in SalivaDirect also contacted the Yale Testing and Tracing Committee to propose that saliva samples could potentially be used in testing the Yale community in the future, according to Hui. Both senators expressed excitement about the prospect of working with Yale to continue scaling SalivaDirect and its use.

    “It is a source of enormous pride,” Blumenthal said. “I’m going to be bragging to my colleagues down in Washington about the kind of test we developed here … There is no pharmaceutical company that should profit; no medical device company should make money from it. The benefits should go directly to the public.”

    William McCormack | william.mccormack@yale.edu  

    Charlotte Zimmer | charlotte.zimmer@yale.edu

  2. Dropping Your Guard


    Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., is the guy in the Sox cap with the sunglasses perched on the brim center fielder-style. The one in the neon-and-turquoise Adidas running shoes and the cargo shorts like the ones your dad wears. The one dressed more casually than anyone in the small crowd gathered inside a firehouse in Norwich, Connecticut to hear him speak.

    This month, Murphy walked across Connecticut. Beginning in Voluntown, near the Rhode Island border, and finishing in Greenwich, the 43-year-old covered more than 126 miles during the six-day tour. Murphy concluded the first leg of his journey in Norwich with a small town-hall meeting, or as he put it, “a little get-together.” Roughly 40 people filled the small firehouse three-quarters of the way. Perched on a barstool at the front of the room, Murphy told them why he was there.

    “My hope is that all of these out-of-the-box interactions that I’m trying to have with people throughout the state of Connecticut not only make me a better representative,” he said, “but ultimately may be recasting the impression of what a public official is, for people who are just used to seeing us in the newspaper or on TV or giving a speech. So I’m really not dressed like a senator today, but that’s OK. People want to know that we are real and authentic and deeply care about who they are and where they are.”

    Here, he echoed a sentiment he expressed to me when we met in his Washington, D.C. Senate office. On Capitol Hill, he described voters’ thirst for sincerity in somewhat less diplomatic terms.

    “I think people are clamoring for authenticity,” he said. “They want to know who you really are. They don’t want you to put on an act … You know, these days, I think the bar is pretty low when it comes to what people want in politicians, and they definitely want you to drop the façade and the talking points and be real.”

    That much is evident in an election cycle featuring one presidential contender whose chief virtue in the eyes of many of his supporters is that “he says what he thinks,” and another whose greatest obstacle is her perceived untrustworthiness. Politicians strive to convey authenticity. The good ones don’t let you see the strain; the bad ones labor visibly. If though, like an increasing number of Americans, you believe none of them are genuine, why focus on any one in particular? Why focus on Chris Murphy?

    On the heels of the mass shooting at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub in June, Murphy catapulted into the national spotlight when he led an impassioned 15-hour filibuster to force votes on four pieces of gun-related legislation. The measures, which included an amendment barring gun sales to anyone who had been on the terrorist watch list in the past five years, all failed decisively, with none coming within six votes of passage. Nonetheless, Murphy believes the filibuster helped “move the needle” on achieving common-sense gun control reforms.

    It also helped raise his national profile. Following the filibuster, Google search volume for “Chris Murphy” spiked to 25 times its previous levels. To Murphy’s critics, like Connecticut Republican Party Chairman J.R. Romano, the filibuster was no act of heroism, but an attempt to harness a cause célèbre for political gain. A self-interested power play.

    “It was all posturing,” Romano said. “It was to raise money. It wasn’t about helping Americans … He’s attempting to raise his profile. You know, the bench within the national Democratic Party is extremely weak and he’s trying to become a national figure.”

    To supporters, however, the act was not one of opportunistic calculation but of genuine, righteous indignation. Laurie Rubiner, the chief of staff to Sen. Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73, the senior U.S. senator from Connecticut, called the moment a release of “pent-up frustration.” It was raw and it was real.

    “It just felt like a really great moment for people to vent their frustration,” she said. “And I think it did get people’s attention.”

    More so than most, Murphy grounds his pitch to voters in his authenticity. Many candidates seeking elected office wax lyrical about their great-uncle the coal miner to avoid being labeled a member of the affluent and nefarious Washington elite that doesn’t understand the average American. But whereas their narratives of authenticity often seem like ad hoc appendages, Murphy tries to weave his anti-Washington message into everything he does.

    Although not nearly to the same extent as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, and with policy positions and ideological leanings diametrically opposed to the real estate tycoon’s, Murphy presents himself as an alternative to the political status quo.

    “The age of incrementalism has to come to an end,” he said. “People fundamentally don’t think that the things we’re talking about here — like a small increase in the Pell Grant, or another tax credit for child care — are going to be meaningful to them. That was the attraction of Bernie Sanders and that’s in part the attraction of Trump.”

    Murphy won his first public election in 1997 at the age of just 24, earning a seat on the Southington Planning and Zoning Commission. Since that first electoral victory, he has rapidly ascended the political hierarchy, moving from the Connecticut House of Representatives, to the state Senate, to the U.S. House of Representatives and finally to the U.S. Senate. Part of the reason he is so grateful for his six-year Senate term is that he spent his 20s and 30s “running and running and running,” he told me.

    Despite having now served a decade in Congress, Murphy still sees himself as an outsider in Washington.

    “I’m probably not the traditional backslapping, hand-grabbing politician,” he said. “I don’t have natural gifts in crowds. I may not be a natural politician. I may be a little bit more of an introvert than some people here are, but I try to make up for it with hard work.”

    At the time of his election in 2012, he was the youngest member of the U.S. Senate at age 39, and he remains nearly two decades younger than the average senator. Rubiner can recall times when Murphy has “come in looking like a college kid.”

    In 2012, Murphy ranked third-to-last in wealth among U.S. senators, with a net worth of about $82,500 — more than $2.4 million below the chamber median. He has neither “a popular last name,” like his 2012 general election opponent and professional-wrestling magnate Linda McMahon, nor a family history in politics. His only electoral defeat — suffered in the 1992 race for the Freshman Council at Williams College — came at the hands of Walker Stapleton, the current state treasurer of Colorado and, as Murphy says, a second cousin of President George W. Bush ’68.

    Since his first race for national public office, in which he upset 12-year incumbent Nancy Johnson to earn a seat in the U.S. House, Murphy has followed the same political “formula.”

    “I don’t have the pedigree that some other people have running for office,” he said. “But I just work really hard and I care really deeply about the issues I work on, and my belief is that, you know, if you do both of those things, voters will notice.”

    And, for the most part, they have. Murphy won his 2006 race against Johnson by a 12-point margin, then defended his seat in 2008 and 2010 with 60 and 54 percent of the vote, respectively. In 2012, he routed McMahon by 12 points to win the Senate seat he now holds. His approval rating stands at 53 percent, ranking 37th among all senators.

    Murphy says the impetus for his filibuster — and for all his work to pass gun control legislation — traces back to the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, which killed 26 people, including 20 six- and seven-year-old children. The attack occurred in his former congressional district while he was still a senator-elect. Together with Blumenthal, Murphy met with victims’ families and attended funeral services in the aftermath of the tragedy. Blumenthal called the ordeal a “transformative experience.” In an interview with Politico’s Glenn Thrush, Murphy said he was “embarrassed that I hadn’t paid attention to this issue.”

    When he took office just weeks after the shooting, he devoted himself to passing “common sense” gun control legislation. More than three years of congressional inaction later, the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history drove Murphy, a self-proclaimed introvert, to seize the Senate floor.

    Janis Sawicki, an audience member at the Norwich town hall meeting who hadn’t yet decided how she felt about Murphy, said the filibuster helped convince her that the senator genuinely cares about his constituents.

    “He does seem to be interested in the people and the issues and the whole business with the filibuster and the gun control business really caught my attention,” she said. “I think that’s a real positive.”

    To the senator’s longtime allies, the filibuster showcased Murphy’s authenticity and caring, and, in that sense, provided a fitting introduction to the national stage.

    Bob Berkmoes, a longtime friend of the senator’s and the chairman of the Southington Democratic Town Committee, can remember Murphy’s first campaign for the Connecticut Legislature.

    “He walked, I think, to every house at least twice to introduce himself to the public,” Berkmoes recalled. “And the biggest thing that Chris did is he listened to everybody. You know, when he knocked on the door and he asked people if they had any problems or how things were going, if people had an issue or problem, Chris really looked into it and got back to the person.”

    Berkmoes also reiterated a common refrain I’d heard from Murphy supporters: “What you see with Chris is what you get.” Scott Merchant, a firefighter in Norwich, echoed Berkmoes verbatim. And the senator himself assured me there would be few surprises if I spent more time with him outside the public eye.

    Susan Bysiewicz ’83, Murphy’s Democratic primary opponent in his 2012 Senate race, offers a more conflicted perspective. On the one hand, she praised the work her former adversary has done in the Senate and emphasized that, with a few notable exceptions like financial regulation, on which she considers herself the Bernie Sanders to his Hillary Clinton, he and she hold similar policy positions. Bysiewicz commended him in particular for his efforts to pass gun control legislation.

    “To me the bottom line is… that Chris and I are both ardent Democrats,” she said.

    And for the most part, that was the bottom line of our interview. At times, though, Bysiewicz seemed hesitant to issue a ringing endorsement of Murphy, perhaps nowhere more clearly than in the exchange that ensued when I asked whether she thought he aspires to the presidency.

    “I am sure that he has very high aspirations, and, you know, that’s not necessarily a bad thing,” she said. “Look, I am a person who believes that leadership is about helping other people achieve their goals and aspirations.”

    “And do you think he embodies that?” I asked.

    “I think he has high aspirations,” she said, taking a long pause. “I think he has high aspirations and … he’s a person who has a lot he would like to accomplish in his life. Look, I’m a person who’s got a lot I’d like to accomplish in my life. So I think that’s a good thing.”

    Ten minutes after our interview, she called me back to “clarify” her comments — in effect, to assure me that she wholeheartedly supports Murphy.

    Bysiewicz’s reluctance to criticize is rare. The U.S. Senate is “a world where people may simply take shots and they may often be unfair,” Blumenthal told me over the phone. It should be no surprise then that senators are loath to “drop the façade and the talking points,” to borrow Murphy’s phrase. For his part, Murphy acknowledges that he doesn’t always present the real Chris Murphy.

    “I don’t know that I achieve that every day, because sometimes it’s hard to drop your guard in this job, but I try,” he said during our meeting.

    In a follow-up interview two weeks later, I returned to that comment, asking why it’s so hard to drop your guard. He paused before replying.

    “Well, I mean, this is a job in which people pay very close attention to what you say,” he said. “You know, if you make one misstatement, it can cause you a lot of heartache. So I think everyone in jobs like this is careful about what they say.”

    I asked if he could recall a time when he regretted not dropping his guard more. “No I think I was making a general comment,” he said. “I don’t sort of think about it in terms of specific instances.”

    I then inverted the question, asking if there were any time that he had dropped his guard and taken criticism as a result. His answer was the same — nearly word-for-word.

  3. Senator Murphy tries eating on $4.80 a day

    Leave a Comment

    $4.80. That’s the daily food budget for the average American enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), better known as food stamps.

    This week, Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy has vowed to abide by this food budget in order to get a taste of the difficulty that his constituents on food stamps face when trying to keep nutricious diets, the New Haven Independent reported.

    On the first day of his experiment, Murphy told The Independent that his diet consisted of a bagel without any toppings ($1.11), two packets of ramen noodles (about $1) and a banana. That morning, Murphy met a reporter at a coffee shop in Cheshire and watched his companion drink coffee because buying a cup for himself would have exhausted nearly half his budget.

    “I’m starving!” Murphy told The Independent. “It’s absolutely amazing to me that people have to go through this every day.”

    More 427,000 Connecticut residents are currently enrolled in SNAP.

    Correction: May 22

    A previous version of this article misspelled “nutrition.”

  4. Facebook removes tribute pages to Sandy Hook

    Leave a Comment

    Facebook has agreed to remove several so-called “tribute pages” for the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting over concerns that the pages were being used to exploit the tragedy.

    Sen. Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73, Sen. Chris Murphy and Rep. Elizabeth Esty wrote a joint letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg yesterday morning asking that the pages be immediately taken down, after they said Facebook had ignored the requests of individual Newtown families to do the same. They expressed concern that some of the pages, purportedly designed to mourn the lives lost on Dec. 14, were being used to harass victims’ family members and to commit financial fraud through soliciting charitable donations.

    Blumenthal announced in a press release that Facebook responded later that day, saying it would begin removing the offending pages immediately.

  5. Senator-elect Murphy named to three key committees

    Leave a Comment

    Chris Murphy, Connecticut’s senator-elect, has been named to three key committees in the 113th Congress.

    Senate Majority Leader Harry Reed announced yesterday that he has named Murphy to the Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions (HELP) Committee, the Foreign Relations Committee and the Joint Economic Committee.

    On the HELP committee — where he will serve alongside Connecticut’s other senator, Richard Blumenthal — Murphy will help shape the Affordable Care Act as it goes into effect in 2014. As a member of the Joint Economic Committee, Murphy will oversee financial regulations, and as a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, he pledged to strengthen Connecticut’s exporting industry.

    “My new committee assignments, along with those of Senator Blumenthal, will assure that Connecticut has a strong voice in the U.S. Senate,” Murphy said in a statement. “I can’t wait to get to work come January.”