Murphy is back as NJ governor. What’s next?
Gov. Phil Murphy on Monday will hold his first COVID briefing since before the election, and may signal what's next with regard to his pandemic response.
Murphy has continued to say all options are on the table in terms of new mandates and restrictions, but did not impose any new mandates as Election Day drew near. While he may not be prepared to announce any new restrictions just yet, he does not seem to be planning to ease any existing restrictions, either.
On NBC's 'Meet the Press,' Murphy was asked by host Chuck Todd if he had plans to roll back any of his COVID policies, since that seemed to drive many New Jerseyans to the poll. Murphy said no.
"Listen, there's mandate fatigue everywhere, including with yours truly. So let there be no doubt about that," Murphy said, "We're not there yet, but please God we can get there sooner than later. We're got to get there safely, responsibly, but I believe we can get there, and I hope it's sooner than later."
One thing Murphy is likely to announce today is more details about the push to get kids as young as 5 vaccinated. He told Todd that is the key to lifting the mask mandate in schools.
"My hope is," Murphy said, "Particularly with our kids under the age of 12 now being able to get the vaccine, that we will someday, sooner than later, be able to lift the mask mandate that we have in schools. That that is my fervent hope."
New Jersey has already ordered more than 200,000 doses of the pediatric Pfizer COVID vaccine. Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli says it will widely be available in pediatricians' offices, health clinics, pharmacies and at school-sponsored vaccination events.
As for future policy initiatives, Murphy was less clear. He touted what he believed were accomplishments in his first term like "expanding pre-K, raising the minimum wage, investing in all-time record levels in infrastructure," but did not detail any new initiatives.
During the gubernatorial debates, Murphy did say there would be no new taxes in a second term, but did say he intended to keep moving New Jersey "forward" with his progressive agenda.
He will do that with new leadership in the state senate. The surprising ouster of Steve Sweeney from his 3rd Legislative District seat will usher in a new Senate President.
Murphy did not always enjoy a friendly relationship with Sweeney, a fellow Democrat, who actively blocked some of the governor's initiatives, especially when it came to tax hikes. Sweeney made no secret he found Murphy too progressive.
The senate democratic caucus appears to have formed support for Senator Nick Scutari as the new President. He also appears to have the backing of Murphy. That may make things a bit of an easier go in the upper house for the governor, but there are questions in the assembly.
Craig Coughlin returns as speaker, and has taken note of tight elections results. Democrats lost seats in the assembly this November, and with another election in two years, Coughlin may be reluctant to advance any proposals that might continue voter backlash into the next election cycle.
Even Murphy acknowledged New Jersey remains deeply divided. "It's quite clear there's a lot of hurt out there," Murphy said on 'Meet the Press, "And there are a lot of kitchen tables that we need to connect more deeply with and help folks get through this period."
At the same time, Murphy said "I like what we are doing," and signaled a continuation of his progressive policies into the next four years.