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 (Chuck) Ellis SchumerDems must stop picking foxes to guard the financial hen house Schumer warns 'House moderates' against immigration compromise bill Trump knocks Schumer, touts North Korea summit in early morning tweet MORE (D-N.Y.) and Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderIBM-led coalition pushes senators for action on better tech skills training Dems seek to leverage ObamaCare fight for midterms GOP senator: DOJ's ObamaCare argument 'as far-fetched as any I've ever heard' 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 Mason ReidAmendments fuel resentments within Senate GOP Donald Trump is delivering on his promises and voters are noticing Danny Tarkanian wins Nevada GOP congressional primary MORE (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate passes 6B defense bill Poll: Kim Jong Un has higher approval among Republicans than Pelosi The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by PhRMA — Outcry raises pressure on GOP for immigration fix 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 CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinCommunity development impact remains clear with NMTC post-tax reform Dem sen: ‘Difficult to understand’ Trump’s treatment of allies Dem sen: No military option in North Korea ‘without extreme risks’ 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 Sidney McCainTrump plan to claw back billion in spending in peril McCain calls on Trump to rescind family separation policy: It's 'an affront to the decency of the American people' Senate passes 6B defense bill 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 Margaret CollinsTrump plan to claw back billion in spending in peril Romney backs Laura Bush on border: 'We need a more compassionate answer' Amnesty International rips family separation policy: 'This is nothing short of torture' 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 Milton LevinHow House Republicans scrambled the Russia probe Congress dangerously wields its oversight power in Russia probe The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by CVS Health — Trump’s love-hate relationship with the Senate 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 Sieben BaucusClients’ Cohen ties become PR liability Green Party puts Dem seat at risk in Montana Business groups worried about Trump's China tariffs plan 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 Lunsford 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 UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallOvernight Energy: Spending bill targets Pruitt | Ryan not paying 'close attention' to Pruitt controversies | Yellowstone park chief learned of dismissal through press release Senate committee targets Pruitt scandals in spending bill Overnight Energy: DNC to reject fossil fuel donations | Regulators see no security risk in coal plant closures | Senate committee rejects Trump EPA, Interior budgets MORE (N.M.) and Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetOvernight Finance: Trump wants Russia back in G-7 | Senators, allies push back | House approves first fiscal 2019 spending bills | Dems want insider trading probe over job tweet Dems want insider trading probe after Trump jobs report tweet Clinton on his reading habits: 'I like a fast ride' 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 WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenDems seek to seize on data privacy as midterm issue Hillicon Valley: DHS gets new cyber chief | White House warns lawmakers not to block ZTE deal | White nationalists find home on Google Plus | Comcast outbids Disney for Fox | Anticipation builds for report on FBI Clinton probe Senate confirms Trump Homeland Security cyber pick 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 GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyJustice IG says report doesn’t assess ‘credibility’ of Russian probe DOJ watchdog probing Comey's memos, will release another report Grassley demands details on Comey's use of personal email 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 Olin GrahamTrump digs in amid uproar on zero tolerance policy Senate passes 6B defense bill Justice IG says report doesn’t assess ‘credibility’ of Russian probe MORE (R-S.C.) has teamed up with Lieberman and Sen. John KerryJohn Forbes KerryShould President Trump, like President Obama, forsake human rights in pursuit of the deal with a tyrant? GOP Senate report says Obama officials gave Iran access to US financial system Democrats conflicted over how hard to hit Trump on Iran MORE (D-Mass.) on energy and climate change legislation. He is also working with Schumer on immigration reform.

 Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerSenate chaplain offers prayer 'as children are being separated from their parents' Senate passes 6B defense bill This week: House GOP caught in immigration limbo MORE (R-Tenn.) teamed up with Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerWray defends FBI after 'sobering' watchdog report Top Dems: IG report shows Comey's actions helped Trump win election Dem senator: Trump at G-7 made me ‘embarrassed for our country’ 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.