No. 2 House Dem in a bipartisan zone

No. 2 House Dem in a bipartisan zone

Rep. Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerHouse to vote on legislation to make lynching a federal hate crime Pelosi's staff huddles with aides in both parties on 'surprise' medical billing House panel approves bill to grant DC statehood MORE (Md.) was in his zone. 

After months leading the charge to renew the Export-Import Bank, the Democratic whip watched with delight as more than 40 Republicans filed into the well, bucked GOP leaders and signed a petition that would prove to be the defining moment in the resurrection of the expired institution.


Hoyer shook hands with them all on that October day. 

The victory was a rare collaboration between Democrats and Republicans in a heavily divided Congress that had churned out few bipartisan wins. 

But Hoyer has been on a roll this year. The second-ranking House Democrat also was a leading figure behind adoption of a prominent proposal to expand benefits for low-income students and another to strengthen visa screenings in the name of national security. 

In the process, he's aimed to debunk the myth that the parties simply can't work together. 

“I have found it over the years very satisfying to be able to work with people on the other side of the aisle,” Hoyer told The Hill recently from his Capitol Hill office. “I’ve just always believed that is the most productive way to get business done."

It's hardly a newfound aspiration. In fact, during his nearly 35-year career in the House, Hoyer has fostered a reputation as the consummate consensus-builder. 

That penchant has sometimes alienated liberals in his own party, but it's also won him high praise as a pragmatist with a demonstrated knack for hammering out agreements with Republicans in pressure-packed political and legislative situations.

An aide to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyTrump's Intel moves spark Democratic fury Overnight Energy: EPA moves to limit financial pressure on 'forever chemical' manufacturers | California sues Trump over water order| Buttigieg expands on climate plan Barr to attend Senate GOP lunch on Tuesday MORE (R-Calif.) told The Hill that the two men have a strong relationship built on trust and respect that has allowed them to work well together even on thorny issues. 

Hoyer, for his part, says he works effectively across the aisle because Republicans know he’s not going to “sucker punch them” or spill details of private conversations. 

“I think they trust me,” Hoyer said. “I don’t think they think I’m posturing or playing politics with them. They know I’m a politician. They know I’m a partisan politician. They know I believe deeply in the Democratic values. 

"But they also believe I’m a credible guy that they can do business with."

The Ex-Im debate seems to support the claim.

During the summer, ahead of the expiration of the bank’s charter, Hoyer reached out to Rep. Stephen Fincher (Tenn.), a vocal Republican supporter of Ex-Im, and offered his help to save the bank.  

Hoyer pledged near-unanimous Democratic support for the bank's revival, vowing to stand behind Fincher and other GOP backers — such as Reps. Frank LucasFrank Dean LucasHillicon Valley: Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract in court | State antitrust investigation into Google expands | Intel agencies no longer collecting location data without warrant Bipartisan bill to secure election tech advances to House floor Hillicon Valley: Doctors press tech to crack down on anti-vax content | Facebook, Instagram suffer widespread outages | Spotify hits Apple with antitrust complaint | FCC rejects calls to delay 5G auction MORE (Okla.) and Bob Dold (Ill.) — if they could drum up enough Republican support to breathe new life into the agency.

In less than an hour, 42 Republicans had joined 176 Democrats in signing the discharge petition — a rarely used procedural move that forced a floor vote roughly four months after House conservatives had bottled up the measure, essentially shuttering the 81-year-old institution. 

That bipartisan effort saved the bank.

On final passage, 127 House Republicans — a narrow majority — threw their support behind the renewal measure, pushing the tally above 300, a number both sides had claimed but needed the formal vote to prove.  

Dold said the large show of bipartisanship bolstered by Hoyer’s help sent a signal that the House was serious about renewing the bank’s charter. 

“Ex-Im is just another example that there is so much more that we agree on than we disagree on and frankly we need to be able to reach across the aisle,” Dold said in a recent interview with The Hill. 

Fred Hochberg, head of Ex-Im, called Hoyer “one of the most respected people on the Hill” among both parties who remained “singularly focused” on restoring the bank’s charter amid opposition from Republican leaders. 

Hochberg told The Hill that Hoyer “gets it in his soul” the importance of the bank’s mission to U.S. global competitiveness and jobs.

The Ex-Im win — a House-Senate conference on a transportation spending bill eventually revived the bank — was one of three notable agreements that Hoyer crafted this year with the GOP.

He also reached across the Capitol rotunda and worked with a bipartisan group of senators to authorize the full-service community schools program — a grant-based initiative providing a host of healthcare, nutrition and other social services to low-income elementary school students. 

It's a program Hoyer has promoted for years — and one close to his heart. His late wife, Judy Hoyer, was an early-childhood educator who championed the comprehensive-benefits approach.

Hoyer not only made phone calls to top lawmakers handling the larger education measure — Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and the panel’s top Democrat Patty Murray of Washington — but he went onto the Senate floor and solicited help from Republican friends such as Sens. Johnny Isakson (Ga.) and Roy Blunt (Mo.).

“When kids are healthy and when their families have access to the resources they need, those students are more likely to succeed in school and beyond, which is why I was proud to work with Steny on this priority we both share,” Murray said in an email to The Hill. 

“He worked tirelessly across the aisle to ensure our new education law can help more kids get the basic services they need — like health care and nutrition assistance — so they can learn, grow, and thrive in the classroom,” Murray said. 

One Murray aide called Hoyer “tenacious” in keeping nearly a year of talks on the issue moving forward until a final measure cleared Congress in early December containing full and separate funding for the program.  

And Hoyer is quick to spread credit to Republicans who were willing to step up and work with him. 

“Yes, Republicans and Democrats can work together," Hoyer said. 

Hoyer joked that his efforts won him at least one whipping job in the upper chamber. 

He recalled that friend and fellow Democrat Sen. Mazie Hirono (Hawaii) recently told him: “Steny, if I have something on the floor I’m going to have you come over and work the Senate for me.” 

More recently, in response to the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., Hoyer teamed up with House GOP leaders to bolster the visa waiver program. 

The Republicans' initial proposal would have halted President Obama's Syrian refugee program — a non-starter with the White House — and leaders in both parties were scrambling for an alternative to prove they could unite for the sake of protecting the country. 

McCarthy felt the visa-waiver bill represented such a measure, and the California Republican approached Hoyer to pitch the idea. Hoyer concurred, and the measure passed the House in early December with a lopsided vote of 407 to 19. 

“I thought we needed to have something that members could vote for,” Hoyer said, alluding to the Democrats' opposition to the Syrian refugee bill. “We came up with a bipartisan bill and … I think it was a very positive sort of statement to America, ‘Look, Republicans and Democrats want to make sure we keep you safe, and here's one indication that we can come together and work together.’”

Ironically, the year's political turmoil in the House catalyzed some of Hoyer's victories. He is quick to acknowledge, for instance, that without the departure of former Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) this fall, the discharge petition to renew the Ex-Im Bank likely would have failed.

That passing of the gavel offered GOP bank supporters a brief window to buck leadership without embarrassing anyone or risking political blowback. And Boehner, Hoyer said, essentially gave Fincher “a wink and a nod” to run with the discharge petition or lose any chance for the bank's renewal.

“It would have been different” without Boehner's ouster, Hoyer said.