As we begin the 116th Congress, I am optimistic our large freshmen class can help restore a commitment to bipartisan problem solving in the House. Although I do not speak for all of them, I know that many of the new members are hopeful that we will find ways to cooperate to address a myriad of issues that should transcend partisanship: economic concerns of working families, access to affordable and quality health care, the scourge of our opioid epidemic, and restoring American leadership abroad.
The source of my optimism is from the possibilities I saw on a recent trip to Israel with other incoming members. The visit emphasized the importance of bipartisanship in our support for this strategic alliance. Just as important, it provided an opportunity for future colleagues to begin building personal relationships on both sides of the aisle, relationships that will be crucial in finding common ground on the many important issues facing our country.
We met with Israel’s leading political figures, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition leader Tzipi Livni, top security officials and issue experts, and travelled to Ramallah to meet with the lead negotiator of the Palestinian Authority. All of us were impressed with the diversity of opinions within Israel’s vibrant democratic system, the complex challenges facing Israel and the ways our two nations are working together to promote our mutual strategic interests in a dangerous region.
We stood on the Golan Heights and were briefed on the build-up of Iranian forces and their proxies in Syria. On Israel’s southern border, we surveyed a tunnel built by Hamas and learned how the technology used to detect and destroy these tunnels is a result of joint U.S.-Israel security cooperation. We also learned about ongoing security cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in addition to the obstacles to a more lasting peace. In short, while we continue to hope for future negotiations and the promise of a two-state solution, we gained valuable insight into the complexities of the conflict and why resolution of this dispute remains elusive.
My optimism is not just about our policies in the Middle East. I have had numerous conversations with new members of both parties about the need to build on the criminal justice reforms passed by the last Congress; it’s a “First Step,” after all. And there is strong bipartisan recognition that we must work together quickly and decisively to pass a long-term approach to dealing with the opioid crisis that our country faces. The commitment to deal with these issues is genuine and transcends the divisions we confront on many other issues.
The trip to Israel helped me remember some of the main lessons from my career in the private sector: you do not really learn about a problem until you witness it firsthand, and you cannot hope to transcend old divisions unless you are willing to have serious conversations with people on all sides. That means listening as much as talking, opening yourself to hearing an alternative perspective as much as you communicate your own.
I believe it is critically important that we make time to experience opportunities like this trip to Israel. We can have similar experiences visiting with key players in the fight against opioids and the injustices of our current criminal justice system. Visits like this help build real relationships across the aisle and to understand the complexities of issues.
Something as simple as having a serious conversation with members on the other side and having a common experience is a first step in cracking through the petty partisan politics that has too often prevented us from moving forward as a nation and a people.
Trone represents Maryland’s 6th District.