By Alexander Bolton - 03/18/10 12:01 AM EDT
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 SchumerRyan goes all-in on Puerto Rico Cruz's dad: Trump 'would be worse than Hillary Clinton' With Ryan’s blessing, lawmakers press ahead with tax reform talks MORE (D-N.Y.) and Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderDemocrats block energy spending bill over Iran amendment Overnight Finance: Puerto Rico pressure builds; Big tariff vote Wednesday Senate votes to increase wind energy funding 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.
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 CardinThe Hill's 12:30 Report Overnight Energy: Obama drinks Flint water during visit Overnight Energy: Clinton takes on former coal industry CEO 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 McCainMissouri Republican: Trump has not earned my vote Stoddard: Can Trump close the deal with the GOP? John Boehner to attend GOP convention 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 CollinsStoddard: Can Trump close the deal with the GOP? The Trail 2016: And then there was one Maine Republican senator suggests she could back Trump 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 LevinCarl, Sander Levin rebuke Sanders for tax comments on Panama trade deal Supreme Court: Eye on the prize Congress got it wrong on unjustified corporate tax loopholes 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.”
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 PryorEx-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm Top Democrats are no advocates for DC statehood Ex-Sen. Landrieu joins law and 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 UdallSurprise resignation threatens to hobble privacy watchdog Dem bill cracks down on payday lenders Menendez wants vote on ambassador to Mexico MORE (N.M.) and Michael BennetMichael BennetReid: Judiciary a 'rubber stamp' for Trump-McConnell GOP Senate candidate wins right to be on Colorado ballot EPA ozone rule looms large in swing state 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 WydenOvernight Cybersecurity: Judge could require Clinton testimony in email case Wyden to introduce bill fighting new fed hacking powers Feds list schools that sought exemption from discrimination statute 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 Trail 2016: GOP stages of grief Grassley: Trump would pick 'right type' of Supreme Court justice Advocacy group seeks probe into DOD statements on sexual assault 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 GrahamStoddard: Can Trump close the deal with the GOP? Dem senator: Trump would leak classified information Never Trump voices face tough decision MORE (R-S.C.) has teamed up with Lieberman and Sen. John KerryJohn KerryUS climate chief's goal: ‘Set in motion’ climate work over next five years Trump's VP: Top 10 contenders Peace equality and stability for religious minorities MORE (D-Mass.) on energy and climate change legislation. He is also working with Schumer on immigration reform.
Sen. Bob CorkerBob CorkerHousing groups argue Freddie Mac's loss should spur finance reform Iran and heavy water: Five things to know Trump seeks approval from foreign policy experts, but hits snags MORE (R-Tenn.) teamed up with Sen. Mark WarnerMark WarnerTurf battle erupts over hot cyber issue Housing groups argue Freddie Mac's loss should spur finance reform Week ahead: Rival encryption efforts clash on Capitol Hill 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.