Hill bonding, as sisters or 'amigos'

Among the many lessons that came out of the Arizona shootings last month was that members of Congress can become friends — real friends.

After gunshot wounds hospitalized Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), scores of lawmakers told stories of a woman who made quick connections with her colleagues, whether it was by sharing her blanket on President Obama’s cold Inauguration Day or offering one of her signature hugs. 

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“Gabby Giffords is my friend,” they said.

Two colleagues in particular, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), showed that, despite leading on-the-go lives, they bonded with Giffords on a deeper level.

Theirs is not the only political friendship that has gotten public attention. Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) may come from different areas of the country, but they’ve become fast friends throughout their years in the Senate, even making trips to Iraq and Afghanistan together and earning the moniker “the three amigos.”

And while politics can make strange bedfellows, other duos and trios in Congress go beyond cursory politeness, finding commonalities and forming relationships that aren’t limited to the workplace. They exercise together, travel together, chat over shared meals and spend time with each other’s families.

In other words, they’re friends.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.)

Collins and Harman knew each other before they became two of four lawmakers tasked with negotiating intelligence reform in 2004, but it was the long nights and intense work during that time that solidified their friendship.

After finally cutting off talks at 11 p.m. one night, the two, both still revved up, decided to go for a glass of wine at Bistro Bis. As they were finishing, a bar patron sent over another round because he observed that they were having such a good time together that he thought they must be sisters.

“It crystallized something for me, and it remains true,” says Harman, “that we are sisters.”

Collins says she was impressed with the breadth of Harman’s knowledge on the government’s intelligence agencies, but the two found that their admiration and commonalities didn’t stop there. They also enjoy good food, shopping and reading. They often exchange books — Harman just gave Collins Christopher Buckley’s Losing Mom and Pup.

“Ours is an unusual relationship because it’s a bicameral, bipartisan, bicoastal relationship,” Collins says. “It’s very special to me, because it isn’t common in Washington. We are so busy — I’m off to Maine every weekend, she’s off to California — yet we try to get together almost every week, and we certainly talk on the phone at least every week.”

Both say they’re better members of Congress because of their friendship.

“Our relationship has not only been a source of joy to me, it also has helped us accomplish good legislation for the country, because we do trust each other completely,” Collins says.

Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) 
and Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio)

As the co-heads of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s domestic policy subcommittee in the 111th Congress, Kucinich and Jordan spent time getting to know and respect each other — so much so that Jordan invited Kucinich to his daughter’s wedding. (Jordan’s daughter, a House page for former GOP Rep. Mike Oxley, married a man who was a page for Kucinich.)

Jordan jokes that his credibility skyrocketed with his liberal-leaning relatives, from wife Polly’s side of the family, when they saw that Kucinich — the two-time presidential hopeful — was at the wedding.

Kucinich also enjoys retelling that story and says Jordan is “a good guy.” 

“He’s without pretense or guile, he’s totally down to earth, forthright and honest and is a person of strong character,” Kucinich says. “He’s great to work with. We’re miles apart politically, but he’s one of the more solid people I’ve met around here.”

Reps. Eddie Bernice 
Johnson (D-Texas) and 
Corrine Brown (D-Fla.) 

Johnson and Brown were both elected to Congress in 1992, and their friendship began shortly thereafter. They were both assigned to the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and they soon found residences near each other so that they could go to the gym together.

Among their favorite joint activities are shopping and traveling.

“[The friendship] means a lot to me because I don’t have any family in the area,” Johnson says. “It’s like having a sister. We discuss almost everything with each other.”

Brown remembers helping Johnson through a particularly difficult time — the passing of Johnson’s mother. She went to Dallas, Johnson’s district, to support her and her family.

“She is my best friend,” Brown says. “We’ve been together for 18 years, and that’s a long time.”

Reps. Jo Ann Emerson 
(R-Mo.) and Carolyn 
McCarthy (D-N.Y.)

Emerson’s rural Midwest district and McCarthy’s urban East Coast district couldn’t be more different, but that hasn’t kept them from finding common ground.

The two lawmakers were in the same freshman class, 1996, and soon began traveling together as part of the NATO parliamentary assembly. They got to know each other on the long flights.

“The Hill can be a pretty lonely place at times, and you start to gravitate toward people who have the same values,” 
McCarthy says. 

The two began meeting for dinner once a week — along with other colleagues — just to get to know each other better. They talk about family and other aspects of their personal lives, “just to feel like you’re normal to a certain extent,” McCarthy says.

“We understand the pressure of doing your job in D.C. and spending time home,” Emerson says. “Our lives are so similar, even though she has what I’d call a metropolitan district and I have a very rural district.”

McCarthy and Emerson can often be seen walking on to the House floor together, and they were planning on sitting together for the State of the Union address until Emerson slipped on a patch of ice and broke her arm a few days before the speech.

They have a goal of visiting each other’s districts soon to better understand the other’s constituents and hometown. Emerson has extended an invitation for McCarthy to join her on her “farm tour” this summer.

“I trust Carolyn 100 percent,” Emerson says. “We can talk to each other about anything. I feel blessed to have a friend like Carolyn.”

Sens. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.)

This group includes two more — House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa) — but the two senators see more of each other on a daily basis than they do their House colleagues these days.

In fact, they like each other’s company enough that they make a habit of going out to dinner together nearly every night.

Like several of these other friendships, Chambliss and Burr arrived in Washington at the same time, as part of the House freshman class of 1995 (Latham was a member of the same group). 

The original link between Chambliss and Burr was their Southern roots. 

“We’re both from the South, and we didn’t need an interpreter,” Chambliss joked last week as the two walked together through the Capitol to the Senate floor.

“It was a large class,” Burr said, “and in those big classes you tend to gravitate toward people you get to know and trust.”

Chambliss moved to the Senate in 2003, and Burr followed him two years later, but the two still manage to see Boehner and Latham for dinner on a regular basis.

They also like to hit the links.

“We still play a little golf together,” Chambliss said.

Molly K. Hooper contributed to this article.