The following is a transcript of an interview with New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy that aired Sunday, March 7, 2021, on “Face the Nation.”
MARGARET BRENNAN: New Jersey has been one of the hardest hit states with the highest per capita COVID death rate in the nation. Governor Phil Murphy joins us from Middletown. Good morning to you, Governor. As we just laid out, it has been rough in your state. You have had two real waves. First, last- last time around this year- this time around last year, I should say, and then again in the fall. Why did you get hit so hard twice?
GOVERNOR PHIL MURPHY: Good to be with you, MARGARET, and Tony Fauci, has been an extraordinary adviser to us and to me personally. We got hit as part of the metro New York City reality last winter and spring, without question. We’re the densest state in America. That- that’s usually a good thing as we build out our economy, as we take advantage of our location. But with a pandemic, it’s been a- as my late mother would say, a big cross to bear. And that is also a contributing factor as to why we also got hit hard with the second wave. We assume, by the way, that the New York City variant that you and Dr. Fauci were talking about is in New Jersey. So that’s another example that we’re in the densest not just state in the country, but the densest region of the country with lots of commuting back and forth, lots of common behavior, whether it’s work or otherwise. And that’s just the reality. And we’ll do everything we can to- to push back at that.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We will be watching for that. I want to ask you, though, about your record and last spring. It was last March that the- your administration ordered long term care facilities to start accepting infected residents. New York has gotten a lot of scrutiny for a similar decision. Are you confident that New Jersey did not undercount or- deliberately or otherwise, nursing home deaths?
GOV. MURPHY: Yeah, MARGARET, I don’t have any insight on New York, but I have a clear answer as to what we did in New Jersey. Our health department, our commissioner was explicit, black and white, if you readmit a previously COVID positive resident, they need to be segregated. They need to be separated into either their own floor, their own wing, their own building and staff as well. Secondly, I think we started reporting probable deaths from COVID as early as June. Thirdly, we hired, in the middle of this, a firm that came in independently and held up a mirror to our practices and- and gave us a pretty brutal assessment and road path forward. And lastly, we said to long-term care facilities, by the way, if you can’t separate, come to us and we will find another alternative. And many did–
MARGARET BRENNAN: So you’re confident in the numbers?
GOV. MURPHY: –so that’s obviously- those are a set of steps. I’m confident in the numbers–
MARGARET BRENNAN: OK.
GOV. MURPHY: –yes, sadly. I mean, it’s tragic. We were clobbered and we mourn the loss of each and every one of those lives. But I am.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you regret that decision to put people into nursing homes, even in the conditions you laid out?
GOV. MURPHY: MARGARET, if the operators followed, and we believe that most, thank God, did, the pattern that I- the instructions that I just laid out, that’s the- that’s the- that was the right course to take. This is their home. So to say to folks, we’re not only going to separate patients, but separate staff. Remember, a lot of these folks got infected unwittingly because staff members were walking in and out of these facilities, asymptomatic, but COVID positive. So it was not enough just to separate the residents, but to separate the staff. Did some operators not take our advice? It’s possible. And if they did- if they did not, then they deserve to pay a price for that.
MARGARET BRENNAN: That’s at the state level. The Justice Department, we know, has been looking at a number of different states, New Jersey included in regard to nursing home deaths. Do you know the status of that probe?
GOV. MURPHY: I do not. And again, we have been transparent from day one. Again, this is not to make light of any single loss of life. We got clobbered in long-term care. America got clobbered. The world got clobbered. But we have been transparent and explicit from day one.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you about your neighboring state governor and the allegations against Andrew Cuomo. You’ve called them “deeply troubling,” but since you made those remarks, even more allegations have come to light. Five women now are accusing him of inappropriate comments or unwanted physical contact. At what point does this become disqualifying for him?
GOV. MURPHY: Listen, MARGARET, I- I’m going to stay where I’ve been on this, which is this is deeply troubling and more data points make it even more troubling. And an independent investigation, which all parties appear to have come to the conclusion was the right road forward, I would- I would agree with that. Let’s see where that comes out. And I would just say every person, regardless of who they are, who has a concern, has a right to be heard. And that concern has a right to be investigated. And God willing, that’s what will- what will happen here.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I mean, two male staffers now have described bullying and verbal abuse. Charlotte Bennett gave an interview to my colleague Norah O’Donnell this week. I’m sure you saw it, where she alleged the governor was grooming her to sleep with him. Should he resign?
GOV. MURPHY: Listen, MARGARET, I think- listen, as I say, this is deeply troubling, deeply concerning, let’s let this independent investigation play out, hopefully on an expedited basis, see where that comes out. And then- and then see where we go from there.
MARGARET BRENNAN: All right. Governor Murphy, thank you for your time today and good luck with that New York variant.
GOV. MURPHY: Thanks for having me, MARGARET.
MARGARET BRENNAN: FACE THE NATION will be back in one minute with another governor Jim Justice of West Virginia. Stay with us.