Governor Murphy went toe-to-toe with Tucker Carlson tonight on Fox News, pressed on his lockdown orders and whether he considered the constitutional questions surrounding park closures and large-gathering bans, including of religious services.
‘We believe completely that we don’t get an economic recovery unless we’ve got a complete or near complete health recovery,’ said Murphy. ‘If we had let this go, we think 3 million New Jerseyans would have been infected. The number is going to be a lot less than that.’
Reflecting on his press briefing earlier today where he said he couldn’t foresee gatherings resuming until there are no more cases, Murphy said ‘my comments today were directed at things like high school graduations, religious gatherings, that folks had asked me about in June,’ adding that ‘the next couple of week are going to be our toughest period’, noting he can’t predict with certainty into the summer.
Pressing him on the suspension of in-person religious services ‘until we’re basically at 0 new infections’, Carlson said its ‘not the standard we apply to any other infectious diseases’. Why the difference with COVID-19?
Murphy disagreed, saying, ‘I wouldn’t say its a different standard’ and that ‘I don’t think anyone of us can expect we can get this directly to 0’ in the absence of a vaccine that may be a year or a year and a half away, adding that ‘we need a much broader testing regime, and that will give us confidence if we can quickly test folks.’
What does Murphy expect the death rate will turn out to be after broad based testing?
‘I don’t know,’ Murphy said, but, ‘based on everything we’ve seen, its higher than the flu’ and made the case for universal COVID-19 testing. ‘The fact that we’re staying at home, staying away from each other, is flattening the curve,’ said Murphy. ‘The fact that it may be lower than we had expected means that its working.’
Carlson turned to the issue of liquor stores deemed as essential services. On what ‘scientific evidence’ was that decided?
‘We had to remind folks that liquor stores may be open, but gatherings are not allowed,’ said the Governor, noting some ‘backroom challenges’. ‘We relied on a whole lot of input from recovery coaches, addiction coaches, and they cautioned us that if we were to shutter those stores down, we would have unintended mental health and addiction prices to pay, unintended consequences, and so far that’s the route we’ve taken and my guess is that’s the route we’ll continue to take.’
But he’s closed religious services, and arrests have been made of those who have attempted to congregate, countered Carlson. Isn’t practicing faith important to mental health? ‘We’ve had good common ground with faith leaders,’ Murphy said. ‘We expect folks to distance themselves,’ adding that ‘there’s an enormous amount of faith going on virtually right now.’
Carlson asked Murphy at what point he decided that ‘buying liquor is more than important than church services?’
‘This is not either-or,’ said Murphy. ‘People are at peace where we have come out there.’ He said that ‘no one is happy’, and ‘who could blame them’, reiterating that ‘these aren’t one versus the other’ and that ‘you can have both of these realities at the same time.’
Carlson then brought up the governor’s closure of county and state parks.
‘We were coming into both warm weather and big religious seasons,’ said Murphy. ‘Counties were beginning to close their parks,’ saying the concern was people would go to different park in a different county, or a state park. ‘We surveyed the state up and down’ and a lot of people were congregating in parks. ‘Its not a life sentence.’
Carlson pressed him on the ‘science’ of closing parks. ‘Arresting someone for sitting alone on the beach’ – how does that prevent COVID-19?
The governor said he didn’t know the specifics of that case, going back to his rationale for closing the county and state parks in terms of preventing congregation, citing crowds and out-of-state license plates at state parks. ‘We felt that was the right decision to make.’
Carlson mentioned that 15 congregants were charged at a synagogue, bringing up freedom of religious expression, and pointedly asking ‘by what authority did you nullify the Bill of Rights?’
‘That’s above my pay grade, Tucker, so I wasn’t thinking of the Bill of Rights when we did this,’ he said, adding that ‘we looked at the data and the science’ and that ‘people need to stay away from each other.’
‘Since you are an elected official, how do you have the authority to order something that so clearly contravenes the Bill of Rights?’ Carlson pressed. ‘Where do you get the authority to do that?’
‘Here’s the thing – we know we need to stay way from each other,’ said Murphy, adding that ‘we do have broad authority within the state’ and that ‘we would never do that without coordinating, discussing, and hashing it out with the leaders in the state.’
‘You clearly decided you could do it. Did you consult an attorney? It is a legal question in addition to medical question,’ Carlson responded.
‘I don’t go to the men’s room without consulting an attorney,’ cracked Murphy. He said he called Archbishop Tobin to consult on the religious season, saying he was concerned about ‘drive-through Holy Communion’, pointing to stories of priests who had unwittingly passed on the virus to parishioners. Tobin said ‘we’re not going that, I promise you, and I’ll confirm that with my bishops,’ according to the Governor. ‘That’s not denying someone their right to worship in any way, we have to find a different way to worship,’ said Murphy.
Carlson fired back that ‘government’s not allowed to tell people how to worship.’
How much does the suffering from the ‘good-faith’ lockdown measures outweigh the suffering from the virus itself?
‘It weighs heavily,’ said Murphy, saying the state continues to ‘make every call based on the facts, the data the science as best we can’ and ‘I look at what we’re doing versus the alternative.’
The alternative, where the virus run amok without lockdown measures, would be much worse, Murphy reasoned. Three million people or more would have been infected, and the health care system would have had no chance to keep up.
‘Each life lost is a precious life lost, let there be no doubt about it,’ said Murphy. ‘The alternative would have been multiples of this. As it relates to economic suffering, if it had been millions, it would have been a lot worse, it would have been down the road, we chose to rip the band-aid off and deal with this upfront, and God willing, we’ve made the right set of decisions.’