STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
No matter who's president, there's a trick to the State of the Union speech. The president speaks to Democrats and Republicans in Congress, as well as the country at large, so he inevitably calls for unity, throws in some lines that bring applause from both sides of the chamber. And then the other side has a chance to respond. Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut was in the Capitol and spoke with our colleague, David Greene.
CHRIS MURPHY: That was not a unifying speech. There were a number of great Americans there, and I was glad to stand up and applaud for them, but in between those introductions was a ton of divisive rhetoric. We didn't get any closer to a deal on immigration or on the federal budget. We got further away.
Most disappointing was the big middle section of the speech in which the president doubled down on his rhetoric demonizing immigrants and trying to make Americans afraid of people who are crossing our borders to come here to seek a better life.
DAVID GREENE, BYLINE: Well, I'm glad you brought up immigration because the president - did he not offer a path to citizenship for 1.8 million Americans, including the so-called DREAMers, many of whom were brought to the United States illegally? Is that not something that you and other Democrats like?
MURPHY: I think it's important that the president has proposed a pathway to citizenship for DREAMers, but the other parts of his proposal do not have the support of the United States Senate. And the rhetoric surrounding that section of the speech suggests that he's not going to be a compromise broker in the coming days and weeks.
GREENE: Your party's response to the speech came from Congressman Joe Kennedy. He said he wanted to send a message to all of the DREAMers watching, quote, "we will fight for you. We will not walk away." Are you worried that that's exactly what your party would be doing - walking away from the DREAMers - if there is indeed a path to citizenship for them on the table here?
MURPHY: Well, we are going to fight for them. And we think that we should pass the DREAM Act by itself. The other parts of the plan that the president talked about in particular - the border wall - don't enjoy the popular support that the DREAM Act does. Listen. We'll do our best to try to get a compromise here, but if the president thinks that he's going to get a border wall built that the American public doesn't support by using these kids as political pawns, I don't think that's the path forward.
GREENE: Is there - I mean, one of the most controversial elements of what the president proposed was what he calls chain migration, suggesting limiting the number of family members who immigrants could bring into the United States. Is there some room for compromise here? Are you open to some sort of change in that policy to get a compromise?
MURPHY: You know, when I listened to the president talk about so-called chain migration, which is really just a way to talk about families reunifying in the United States - And I watched Republicans stand up and applaud with glee - I wonder if they remember how they got here, how their grandparents and great grandparents very likely followed cousins or aunts or uncles who came before them.
America's strength in the past has been our ability to bring family members to join other family members in the United States and to look at skills but not have it be the only determination of how you get here. And that still remains the strength of this country.
GREENE: And, Senator, let me just finish with this. I mean, the response from your party tonight from Congressman Joe Kennedy - a lot of angry language accusing this President of, quote, "callously appraising worthiness," saying that the Trump ministration is "turning American life into a zero-sum game." Is that the proper tone for this moment from the Democratic Party?
MURPHY: You know, I've never seen people as anxious or scared or angry as they are today back in Connecticut. And, you know, I think a lot of folks think that there's a real, you know, threat to democracy underfoot, which, you know, raises people's anxiety and also the heat and tenor of the debate. I get it. It's a very, very tough balance, one that we're trying to figure out every day. It's an unprecedented moment for all of us.
INSKEEP: Chris Murphy, Democratic senator from Connecticut, speaking with our colleague, David Greene. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.