Three of the state's congressional delegates say they will give Trump chance to present agenda

Hartford — With Donald J. Trump the new president-elect, U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, both D-Conn., held a joint news conference here Wednesday, and pledged to give Trump a chance to lead and to listen to his agenda. But they said they will fight against Trump if he presents policies that aren't in the best interest of Connecticut or the people they serve.

Despite their critiques of Trump during the presidential campaign, the two senators on Wednesday echoed sentiments made by Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton during her concession speech earlier in the day.

Blumenthal, who handily won re-election Tuesday, said he agreed "very strongly" with Clinton that "we should give the new president elect a chance to lead and we should approach this task with an open mind."

And Murphy said he was "committed" to listening to Trump's agenda, and "not reflexively opposing it just because we are on different sides of this election."

The message of unity also appeared in Trump's victory speech early Wednesday morning.

"To all Republicans and Democrats and independents across this nation, I say it is time for us to come together as one united people," he said in addressing his supporters at a rally in New York City around 3 a.m. Wednesday, after receiving a call from Clinton to concede.

For now, Murphy is taking Trump at his word, and is hoping "he pursues an agenda that is consensus-based rather than one that is as divisive as his campaign."

Come January, Murphy said he will show up "ready to work with the new president when things he proposes are good for Connecticut and I'm going to be there to fight him when I think the things he's pushing are bad for the people that I and we represent."

Already, Murphy was intrigued by an initiative Trump mentioned in his victory speech.

"I heard him talk last night about putting before Congress a big infrastructure package. Well that scratches Connecticut where it itches," he said. "If President Trump wants to spend money on helping to rebuild Connecticut's roads and bridges and rail lines, then sign me up."

In addition to building more roads, bridges and rail lines, Blumenthal pointed to other "areas where we can clearly move forward," such as veterans issues and national defense.

An issue likely to continue to receive bipartisan support in Congress is the program to build Virginia-class nuclear-powered attack submarines, and the Columbia-class submarine program to build a new fleet of 12 ballistic missile submarines to replace the current fleet of 12 "boomers," as they're called.

"These shipbuilding programs are absolutely essential to our national security. There's bipartisan agreement on that fact," Blumenthal said.

Murphy said the senators will be "happy" to host Trump in southeastern Connecticut to show him the importance of the Virginia and Columbia-class programs.

"I think (Electric Boat) should keep their plans to staff up and hire up. We're going to keep making subs at a very brisk pace in southeastern Connecticut," he added.

Electric Boat and Newport News Shipbuilding build Virginia-class submarines under a teaming agreement, with each alternating delivery.

The company has ramped up hiring, primarily in the shipyard trades, to manage the large amount of work it has as a result of being awarded big Navy contracts for the Virginia- and Columbia-class programs.

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, who won a sixth term in Congress on Tuesday, agreed with the senators' sentiment.

"At end of the day, Congress authorizes and appropriates funding for shipbuilding," he said, noting Congress has a good track record of "plus-ups" for shipbuilding in both Republican and Democratic administrations.

Trump has said he wants to beef up the military — he has promoted a defense philosophy of peace through strength — and the Navy, specifically. In a speech in Philadelphia, he called for a 350-ship Navy, but did not say where he would like additional construction to occur. Currently the Navy has 272 ships.

Trump recently released his plan for the first 100 days in office. One of the items included in that plan is repealing the Affordable Care Act, a major cornerstone of President Barack Obama's legacy, and replacing it with health savings accounts, allowing the purchasing of health insurance across state lines and giving states control of Medicaid funds.

"At least he showed some awareness that a simple repeal is really not going to help the health care system," Courtney said.

He pointed to another comment Trump made on the campaign trail about health care, his calling for allowing prescription drug prices to be negotiated within Medicare.

That's a stance that's "way out of the orthodoxy of the Republican party," Courtney said.

"If he's serious about that, you could get some real bipartisan support on health care with ideas like that," he added.

Murphy said if Trump "comes to the table with a plan to fix the parts of the Affordable Care Act that aren't working as well as they should, we should be willing to work with him."

Trump will have a Republican majority in Congress to help him get his agenda through, but that majority is slim in the Senate. Republican New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte's narrow loss gave Democrats 48 seats and Republicans 51 seats. The race for a Senate seat in Louisiana will be determined in a run-off next month.

"The smallness of margin in the Senate really necessitates that things get done with Democrats and Republicans," Murphy said. "Donald Trump's going to recognize that, and (Senate Majority Leader) Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is going to have to recognize that."

In the Senate, 60 votes are needed to force a vote on a bill. A bill in the Senate needs 51 votes to pass.

One of the biggest points of contention in the Senate for the better half of this year is President Obama's nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court to fill the seat vacated when conservative Justice Antonin Scalia died.

Trump's victory means the nine-member Supreme Court, once restored, will feature a majority of Republican-appointed justices.

Murphy said that the Democrats in the Senate were never demanding that their colleagues approve Garland, but to allow a vote on his nomination.

Blumenthal, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said "we'll have to see how the process unfolds."

"We do need to fill vacancies on the Supreme Court and do our constitutional duty," he continued. "At the same time, we need to make sure that our Supreme Court justices reflect America and the goodness of America and the principles of respect, fairness, tolerance and justice."

j.bergman@theday.com

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