When his House subcommittee held the forum “After Newtown: A National Conversation on Violence and Severe Mental Illness” in March, Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) received bipartisan praise for what was to be the first of three hearings on the topic. Murphy, chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee’s oversight and investigations subcommittee, took the job in December, a few days before the atrocity in a suburban Connecticut elementary school. He earned good will from both sides of the aisle simply by examining the links between violence, severe mental illness, and federal policy, something Congress hadn’t done in decades. “You’re my hero for raising these issues,” Dr. Harold Koplewicz, a member of Vice President Biden’s task force on mental illness, gushed at the time. “I commend your leadership on this issue,” said Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).
Murphy is an unusual politician. With his wireless oval glasses and smooth baritone voice, the 60-year-old comes across more like the child psychologist he was than a legislator. Few politicos quote from memory the medical journal the Lancet, and his knowledge of the topic has not been lacking.