Franken's Senate Secret Santa hits 5th year of bipartisan giving
© Getty Images

For the past five years, Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenOvernight Tech: Senate panel subpoenaed ex-Yahoo chief | Twitter gives all users 280 characters | FBI can't access Texas shooter's phone | EU wants tax answers from Apple Week ahead: DHS nominee heads before Senate | Ex-Yahoo chief to testify on hack | Senators dig into election security Feinstein: Sessions should re-testify on Russia meetings MORE (D-Minn.) has been one of Santa’s helpers on Capitol Hill, trying to bring bipartisanship back with his annual Senate Secret Santa.

“In the Senate, we have serious jobs and often face some very sobering issues,” Franken said. “But every year, I host a bipartisan event to embrace the spirit of the holiday season.”

Franken’s office sent letters to senators on Nov. 3 inviting them to participate. Those who choose to join in the festivities will draw names on Tuesday and have until mid-December to purchase a gift that does not exceed $15.

Democrats will draw Republican names “to the extent possible” from a hat and they must keep it a secret, only telling “a spouse or a confidant who can assist in the selection or purchase of a gift,” according to the letter.

Franken, who is Jewish, began the Secret Santa tradition in 2011 to “create comity and good cheer in an institution badly in need of both.”

Accusations of gridlock or of being a “do-nothing Congress” remain common as lawmakers have battled over government spending, Planned Parenthood, a transportation bill and the Iran nuclear deal this year. About 82 percent of Americans disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job, according to an October Gallup poll.

But Franken said he hopes this activity will cut through the partisan divide in the Senate and even help create some unlikely friendships.

He used to do the gift exchange in elementary school, in St. Louis Park, Minn., and that inspired him to bring it to the Capitol.

“It helped make sure that every kid got a gift, and it was a way to mix things up and give kids the chance to get to know one another,” he said. “I thought I’d bring the same thing to the Senate.”

In past exchanges, about 60 senators have participated, with a 2-to-1 ratio of Democrats to Republicans.

“The goal for this year … is to build on that and bring even more senators together in the spirit of the holiday,” Franken said.

Last year, he pulled Sen. John Hoeven’s name and drew the North Dakota Republican a map of the United States, personalizing it to the states that played a role in Hoeven’s life.

In 2013, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) was the only senator to receive coal as a present. He was given an elephant statue made of the stuff from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), whose state is known for its coal production.

As the exchange enters its fifth year, senators are excited that the tradition is continuing.

“We’re so often hunkered down thinking about the next vote or the next meeting that we forget that we just don’t know that much about one another,” said Sen. Angus KingAngus Stanley KingMeet the GOP senator quietly pushing an ObamaCare fix Uranium One deal led to some exports to Europe, memos show Senators demand more action from tech firms on Russian election meddling MORE (I-Maine). “The Senate Secret Santa gives us a chance to cut through the clutter, spend time together and have a laugh. If you ask me, we could use more of that kind of bipartisanship around here.”

Sen. Gary PetersGary Charles PetersGOP tax bill has transportation advocates scrambling GOP tax bill ends electric vehicle tax credit, overhauls other energy taxes Cities grapple with how to protect soft targets from new attacks MORE (D-Mich.) agreed that the activity is a fun way to promote working with the other party.

“One of the best things about serving in the Senate is the opportunity to build relationships with your colleagues on both sides of the aisle,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the Secret Santa gift exchange as a great way to foster bipartisanship in the Senate by coming together to celebrate the holiday season.”