“It’s a Very Fragile Time”: Perspectives on the Presidential Transition

January 19, 2021

Speaking to Brandeis audience ahead of Jan. 20 inauguration, New Jersey’s Democratic governor predicts new Biden administration will bridge sharp divide in America. 

Woman celebrates Biden/Harris Victory on Pennsylvania Avenue
Photo Credit: Gayatri Malhotra

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris take office at a perilous moment for the nation, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy told a Brandeis audience, but the governor expressed confidence that President Biden would lead Americans to common ground.

“It’s a very fragile time, there’s no question about it,” Murphy, a Democrat, said Jan. 13 in a Brandeis-sponsored webinar, “Post-Election, Pre-Inauguration: Thinking about Governmental Transitions,” a week after a mob bent on thwarting the electoral process stormed the Capitol.

“The attack (on the Capitol on Jan. 6) was shocking,” Murphy said. “I’m spending 95 percent of my time these days on the pandemic and security. There’s been a national call for Second Amendment protests in all state capitals, and that’s obviously got us occupied. We have over 500 National Guardsmen and -women from New Jersey in Washington, D.C., as we speak.”

Taking Action to Address Americans’ Needs

The governor, who was joined at the Brandeis event by Biden campaign senior advisor Greg Schultz, said he hoped President Biden can cool tensions by attending to working families’ concerns on “kitchen-table” issues such as jobs, healthcare and education. 

“Seventy-four-plus-million Americans voted for Donald Trump,” Murphy said. “They weren’t all attacking the Capitol. They’re not all racists and bigots and anti-Semites. They’re not members of the Proud Boys in all cases. There are literally tens of millions of Americans out there who are screaming out for someone to care about their needs.

“And if you went to central casting to find an American president…you could not have a better guy walking into that moment in American history than Joe Biden, because he’s the guy uniquely, maybe singularly, capable of finding common ground with those tens of millions of folks who are…screaming out for someone to care about them. Joe Biden is that guy.”

More than 1,400 attendees registered for the Zoom event sponsored by the Brandeis Alumni Association, the Brandeis Lawyers Alumni Network, and the Brandeis National Committee. 

The organizer of the event was Miami Beach attorney Alex Heckler ’98, longtime Democratic Party activist and fund-raiser who was a member of the Biden-Harris campaign’s national finance committee. The moderator was Jill Greenlee, associate professor of politics and women’s, gender and sexuality studies at Brandeis.

A President Uniquely Qualified for the Moment

Biden advisor Schultz said: “I’m clearly biased, but you know, I think there (are) a few times that the country as a whole picks the one person that the country needs, and this is one (such) time — whether it’s the resiliency, the empathy, the common touch, if you will, of Joe Biden. One thing I don’t worry about is, he’s going to tell the truth, and he’s going to tell the tough truth. Biden is not going to drive partisanship.”

On COVID-19, Murphy said more vaccine doses are needed immediately, as is state and local aid from Congress to help deliver needed services and keep frontline health workers employed. He raised the use of the Defense Production Act to expand vaccine production. He also called for a set of “national commandments” on COVID. “The fact we allowed face coverings to be politicized is just jaw-dropping,” he said. 

“Lastly, we need rhetoric which is fact-based and empathy-based,” the governor said. “Today I spoke to three families, as I do most days, who have lost a loved one. The precious lives that have been lived and lost — we’ve got now…over 20,000 fatalities in New Jersey alone. 

“There’s one guy in America who’s gone through the losses (Joe Biden) has gone through, who’s comforted probably thousands of people who have lost loved ones. We need that right now. That alone will go a step, if not many steps, toward rebuilding the fabric we’ve torn apart in this administration.”

On the issue of race, Schultz said: “Joe Biden is probably one of the few elected officials in this country who can walk into a Fraternal Order of Police meeting and walk across the street into a Black Lives Matters meeting. Joe Biden can lead by example.” 

Murphy said: “The megaphone matters. Boy, let me just say, let’s not underestimate the power of the megaphone, and we’ve seen it, good, bad and ugly.”