Sens. soothe mood with wine, cheese

Senators have reached across the aisle in recent days to lower the partisan temperature, using wine and cheese to soothe hard feelings.

On Monday, after a late-afternoon vote, Sens. Charles SchumerCharles SchumerHow Trump can score a big league bipartisan win on infrastructure Overnight Finance: Dems introduce minimum wage bill | Sanders clashes with Trump budget chief | Border tax proposal at death's door GOP senators distance themselves from House ObamaCare repeal bill MORE (D-N.Y.) and Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderOvernight Regulation: Appeals court upholds injunction on Trump travel ban | GOP bill would scrap 'micro-unions' Republicans introduce bill to scrap 'micro-unions' Overnight Healthcare: CBO fallout | GOP senators distance themselves from House bill | Trump budget chief blasts score | Schumer says House bill belongs 'in the trash' MORE (R-Tenn.) hosted a happy hour in the Capitol for their colleagues. The social event was intended to cool tempers in a chamber that has been overrun during the 111th Congress with partisan votes and procedural objections.

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Both Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidGOP frustrated by slow pace of Trump staffing This week: Congress awaits Comey testimony Will Republicans grow a spine and restore democracy? MORE (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellOvernight Energy: Trump energy nominees face Congress | OPEC to extend production cuts Senate confirms Trump's first lower-court nominee Top GOP senators tell Trump to ditch Paris climate deal MORE (R-Ky.) dropped by the wine-tasting, as did about 20 senators.

One lawmaker in attendance said it was the first time in months he witnessed Reid and McConnell at a social event together.

A spokesman for McConnell said Reid and McConnell see each other frequently at spouses’ dinners and congressional events.

The effort is one of many attempts, both formal and informal, to break the logjam in a chamber that seems to use the terms “filibuster” and “hold” more than “bipartisan” and “passage.” Lawmakers say the Senate rules, which have been on the books for decades, are not suited to handle the hyper-partisan atmosphere that has pervaded national politics.

 “There’s been a lot of conversations one on one and in small groups about how the partisan heat here is too high and we have to tone it down,” said Sen. Ben CardinBen CardinSenate panel could pass new Russia sanctions this summer Worries mount about vacancies in Trump's State Department Pence marks Armed Forces Day with vow to rebuild military MORE (D-Md.). “There’s a renewed spirit to find areas of common interest.”

Alexander, the Senate Republican Conference chairman, plans to visit with Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) next week to discuss scheduling a few bipartisan breakfasts in coming months.

Alexander said senators have a long history of holding bipartisan social events. But he noted that it has been awhile since they’ve happened on a regular basis and he’d like to see them more often. Lieberman, who caucuses with Democrats and campaigned for Sen. John McCainJohn McCainArmed Services chairman unveils .1B Asia-Pacific security bill Overnight Defense: Trump scolds NATO allies over spending | Flurry of leaks worries allies | Senators rip B Army 'debacle' | Lawmakers demand hearing on Saudi arms deal The case for protecting America's intelligence agency whistleblowers MORE (R-Ariz.) during the 2008 GOP presidential contest, is considered a helpful go-between at a time when bipartisan cooperation is at its lowest in years.

Lieberman has tried to convene semi-regular meetings of Democratic and Republican centrists, such as Sen. Susan CollinsSusan CollinsSenate takes lead on Trump’s infrastructure proposal Navy leaders defend Trump's lackluster ship budget Overnight Healthcare: CBO fallout | GOP senators distance themselves from House bill | Trump budget chief blasts score | Schumer says House bill belongs 'in the trash' MORE (R-Maine), to keep open the channels of communication.

 Collins said she has talked with about half a dozen of her Democratic colleagues “about how to improve relationships.”

 Even senior Democrats, such as Sen. Carl LevinCarl LevinDemocrats and Republicans share blame in rewriting the role of the Senate For the sake of American taxpayers, companies must pay their fair share What the Iran-Contra investigation can teach us about Russia probe MORE (Mich.), say they have made quiet moves to change the harsh tone that has overcome the chamber, which until recently was best known for its collegiality and chumminess.

“There’s a lot of us talking on a one-to-one basis or in small groups,” said Levin, who declined to reveal any details because he fears the talks could fall apart if they became public.

 “I’d rather keep them personal — they’re more effective that way,” he said.

 But one Democratic centrist who has worked often with Republicans voiced strong skepticism about the efforts, noting that the partisan climate cannot change until centrist Republicans, such as Maine Sens. Collins and Olympia Snowe, challenge their leadership.

“It’s not going to happen. Snowe and Collins are not going to go against Mitch McConnell,” the lawmaker said.

“McConnell thinks he has a winning strategy, and he’s going to try to block everything that moves,” the lawmaker added. “McConnell calculates using only division and subtraction.”

 

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Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max BaucusMax BaucusLawmakers: Leave advertising tax break alone GOP: FBI firing won't slow agenda White House tax-reform push is ‘game changer,’ says ex-chairman MORE (D-Mont.) and other Democrats believe McConnell held Republicans in the Gang of Six negotiations back from striking a bipartisan deal on healthcare reform.

 Don Stewart, a spokesman for McConnell, noted that Alexander, who hosted the bipartisan soiree on Saturday, is a member of the GOP leadership.

 “A Democrat senator is taking partisan shots at Republican senators while decrying a lack of bipartisanship. Did someone hit him with the irony stick?” Stewart said.

 Sen. Mark PryorMark PryorMedicaid rollback looms for GOP senators in 2020 Cotton pitches anti-Democrat message to SC delegation Ex-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm MORE, a centrist Democrat from Arkansas, said there is a growing realization that senators must show some collegiality if the chamber is to operate as intended.

 “There’s a requirement of restraint for the Senate rules to work properly,” he said. “We need to refrain from maximizing the rules if we’re going to get things done around here.

Some freshman Democrats, such as Sens. Tom UdallTom UdallVA eyes building closures to boost care under Trump GOP senator: FCC must explain 'manhandling' reporter Senate Dems warn Trump admin shows 'pattern of hostility' to press MORE (N.M.) and Michael BennetMichael BennetSenators introduce lifetime lobbying ban for lawmakers Undocumented activist living in church gets stay of removal Overnight Regulation: Senate confirms SEC pick | House GOP passes 'comp time' bill | MORE (Colo.), are pushing leaders to change the rules at the start of the 112th Congress. They would like to reform the use of filibusters and holds to stall legislation and nominees.

 Democrats such as Cardin think it would be easier to reform Senate rules with some bipartisan support, even if leaders fall short of winning the 67 votes needed to overhaul procedure under regular order.

 But others are skeptical about trying to reform the Senate by changing the rules.

“The Senate has to wrestle with the combination of excessive partisanship and outdated rules. That’s a really toxic combination,” said Sen. Ron WydenRon WydenMnuchin: WH won't double-count economic growth Dem senator: White House stonewalling on important information Overnight Healthcare: CBO fallout | GOP senators distance themselves from House bill | Trump budget chief blasts score | Schumer says House bill belongs 'in the trash' MORE (D-Ore.). “I tend to believe there is no rule change on the planet that will deal with this.”

 Wyden said he and Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyThe case for protecting America's intelligence agency whistleblowers Senate confirms Trump's first lower-court nominee Feinstein: Comey memos 'going to be turned over' MORE (R-Iowa) spent 10 years trying to eliminate the use of secret holds. Even though the chamber passed reform to curb the practice, “there continue to be efforts to get around that,” he said.

Wyden said he often talks with Republicans as part of an ongoing effort to promote bipartisanship. He joined Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) last month in rolling out the first major bipartisan tax reform bill in decades.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamSenate panel could pass new Russia sanctions this summer Overnight Cybersecurity: Bad Russian intel may have swayed Comey's handling of Clinton probe | Apple sees spike in data requests | More subpoenas for Flynn | DOJ's plan for data warrants Overnight Finance: GOP bill would leave 23M more uninsured, says CBO | Trump aides defend budget | Mnuchin asks for clean debt hike before August | Ryan says House could pass bill without border tax MORE (R-S.C.) has teamed up with Lieberman and Sen. John KerryJohn KerryJohn Kerry channels Yoda in tweetstorm John Kerry goes on tweetstorm as Senate eyes Iran legislation John Kerry's advice to Harvard grads: Learn Russian MORE (D-Mass.) on energy and climate change legislation. He is also working with Schumer on immigration reform.

 Sen. Bob CorkerBob CorkerA retreat from the Paris climate pact would imperil U.S. interests Cohn: US ‘probably looking to get tougher’ on Russia The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (R-Tenn.) teamed up with Sen. Mark WarnerMark WarnerSenate Intel Committee demands Trump campaign to turn over all docs: report Mr. President: Cooperation with Russian investigation is your best play Congress must address student loan debt crisis, a national economic drag MORE (D-Va.) to find ways to address the problem of financial institutions becoming too big to fail. That effort faltered this week, however, when Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) introduced a partisan financial regulatory reform bill.