Partisan politics how bad can it get

It isn’t tough these days to coax a lawmaker into badmouthing a colleague from an opposing party. More than the usual partisan bickering that occurs in a heated election year, rancor is settling in as part of the Capitol Hill scenery.

It isn’t tough these days to coax a lawmaker into badmouthing a colleague from an opposing party. More than the usual partisan bickering that occurs in a heated election year, rancor is settling in as part of the Capitol Hill scenery.

A quick mention of House Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) to Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) is enough to send the freshman lawmaker into a tailspin of insults.



“The funniest thing I’ve seen in years is Nancy Pelosi calling a deal bipartisan,” McHenry said last week. “That is the most God-awful joke I’ve ever heard.”

He added, “The Democrats want to do anything they can to beat us, so they don’t want to cooperate on anything.”

Politics aside, McHenry said, there are “nice” people on the other side of the aisle. Asked to name a few, he paused several seconds before replying: “Hoyer is a gentleman. Harold Ford is a nice man,” referring to Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Rep. Harold Ford (D-Tenn.).

But he quickly made it clear that he doesn’t see eye to eye with them politically: “Their ideology is harmful to America, but they are nice people.”

Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), who is leaving Congress after being indicted by a Texas grand jury, blames Democrats for the poisonous partisan environment.

“It is the Democrats who have no inclination to work on a bipartisan basis,” he said. “Their definition of bipartisan is to buy into their partisanship or they won’t work with you.”

Not surprisingly, Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) sees things differently: “Republicans are running scared,” she said. “Their fortunes fall daily.”

In an election season, most communication is heated and intensely competitive between the two parties. But is this season any worse than others?

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) called the current state of affairs “poisonous” and a “feeding frenzy” intent on “finding something that anyone has done wrong.”

He said his colleagues “are a little depressed” and explained that “there is a real anxiety level among all of us. Why are we out to destroy each other?”

The sentiment, however, doesn’t stop Rohrabacher from jumping onto the partisan hate train: “Democrats started the feeding frenzy when they heard about [Jack] Abramoff, and now it has gotten out of hand.”

House Majority Leader John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerJim Jordan as Speaker is change America needs to move forward Paul Ryan’s political purgatory Republicans fear retribution for joining immigration revolt MORE (R-Ohio) held a press conference in the Capitol in late March and asked with disdain, “Can you imagine a Speaker Pelosi?”

In such a critical election year, Pelosi herself rarely shies away from taking the partisan pot shot. She, her aides and loyal Democrats use the mantra “culture of corruption, cronyism and incompetence” daily to describe Republican counterparts. The message is designed to antagonize Republicans and paint them with the same broad brush. Democrats are hoping voters will carry the message with them to the polls and help catapult Democrats into the majority.

But partisanship is not just an election-year communications strategy. Sometimes it gets personal. Reps. Luis GutierrezLuis Vicente GutierrezDem tears into Kelly over immigrant comments: 'He eats the vegetables that they pick' WATCH: Gutiérrez says ‘lonely’ Trump can cry on KKK’s shoulder over WH departures Read Trump's remarks at Gridiron dinner MORE (D-Ill.) and Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) nearly came to blows in a recent argument on immigration reform.

“The episode with Tancredo was a mistake,” Gutierrez says, explaining that he got caught up in the “heat of the moment.”

He says he believes that immigration reform will not happen without bipartisanship. “Sometimes bipartisanship means acting in the absence of party ambitions,” he said.

Have he and Tancredo shaken hands and made up? “No, I haven’t seen him,” Gutierrez said.

The skirmish between Gutierrez and Tancredo isn’t isolated. In the summer of 2004, Vice President Cheney told Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyMcConnell sets 'minibus' strategy for 2019 spending Dem senator mocks Pruitt over alleged security threats: 'Nobody even knows who you are' Pruitt tells senators: ‘I share your concerns about some of these decisions’ MORE (D-Vt.) to “[expletive] yourself” during an encounter on the Senate floor.

And last November on the House floor, Rep. Marion Berry (D-Ark.) called Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) a “Howdy Doody-looking nimrod.” Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio) earned outrage and condemnation for her now infamous floor blunder last November when, in response to a call by Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), a decorated Marine Corps veteran who served in Vietnam, to pull troops out of Iraq, she said, “cowards cut and run.”

“Well, the way I would describe it, it’s very confusing,” Berry said. “We’ve got a lot of members — their heart tells them one thing, their constituents tell them another and their leadership tells them another.”

Even so, one could argue that life in Congress is a lot less partisan than it used to be. There is, after all, none of the physical violence that occurred among lawmakers in the 1700s and 1800s, such as the infamous caning of 1856.

That year, South Carolina Rep. Preston Brooks (D) entered the Senate chamber and beat Massachusetts Sen. Charles Sumner (R) unconscious.

In a 1793 dispute, a House member challenged a former member to a duel. Other dueling incidents left members bloody and, in some cases, dead.

Strangely enough, in the midst of all this vitriol there are always some lawmakers out to prove that bipartisanship can exist even under the worst of circumstances.

Last week, Rep. Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithOvernight Defense: Latest on scrapped Korea summit | North Korea still open to talks | Pentagon says no change in military posture | House passes 6B defense bill | Senate version advances House easily passes 7B defense authorization bill Overnight Defense: Over 500 amendments proposed for defense bill | Measures address transgender troops, Yemen war | Trump taps acting VA chief as permanent secretary MORE (D-Wash.) hosted his sixth annual “Ninth District Day” in which 100 constituents came to Washington to listen to a bipartisan panel of lawmakers, political officials and observers speak about life in Washington. BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerJim Jordan as Speaker is change America needs to move forward Paul Ryan’s political purgatory Republicans fear retribution for joining immigration revolt MORE was scheduled to be one of two Republican speakers, but 15 minutes before his allotted time he canceled, even though the event was solidified two months ago.

Smith, gracious about the majority leader’s bailing out, told the crowd, “Something came up, so he will not be able to be here.” Later in the hallway, he added, “I don’t think it’s a sign of partisanship. I’m fine. We’re very busy people.”

Still, Smith, whose district was a swing district when he came to Congress in 1996, sees a deep divide. “It’s worse now [than] in the 10 years that I have been here,” he says. “Partisanship has settled in.”

In the past, he says, lawmakers would take “shots at each other and then you work together. The working part is getting less and less.”

Simon Rosenberg of the New Democrat Network told the crowd, “I don’t think the American people like the intensity of the anger. It’s kind of sucked, frankly.”

These days, McHenry doesn’t warm to the idea of having Pelosi reach out to him. “I don’t see Nancy Pelosi coming across the aisle to embrace me anytime soon,” he said.