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Former lawmakers call on leadership to focus on unity
A bipartisan group of more than 100 former members of Congress is calling on leadership in both chambers to unify in the wake of the insurrection at the Capitol earlier this month.
In a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), 128 members of the Association of Former Members of Congress (FMC) called on congressional leaders to put country over party in hopes of helping the nation heal following the violent riot earlier this month, which left five dead including Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick.
The congressional alumni urged leadership to "shun" lawmakers who have used rhetoric advocating for a partisan divide, calling for them to use the tools available to them to help restore Americans' faith that Congress is working for them.
"We urge you, as division not seen since the Vietnam War defines our union, to abandon the politics of tribalism. We challenge you, as our representative democracy is under severe stress, to shun those who peddle hyper-partisanship for personal gain," the letter states.
"We have walked in your shoes, and we understand from our own experience on Capitol Hill how easily an us-versus-them mindset can become a Member's guiding principle. It will take great political courage and leadership to fundamentally alter the current acrimonious mentality, but for the good of the country you need to embrace a better path forward," they wrote.
Former Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.), the president of FMC, said that those who signed on to the letter know the pressure members face when taking hard votes, but argued that leadership needs to use the resources available to them to prevent the continuation of the volatile rhetoric that led to the violence on Jan. 6, when rioters attempted to prevent the certification of the Electoral College results.
House Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney's (Wyo.) decision to support impeaching the president for inciting the uprising has highlighted the divide within the GOP. A group of conservatives are attempting to oust the Wyoming Republican from her leadership post while some in the party have defended Cheney.
Boustany said he believes members need to be respectful of their colleagues' "beliefs and consciences" during votes of that nature to prevent further fanning the flames of discord.
"One of the sad things I've seen within the Republican conference, in my view, is all these cliques and factions have developed with a zero-sum mentality, and they are intent on getting their way 100 percent of the time without giving anything back in return, and that is very destructive - the art of compromise has been lost on the Hill," he said in an interview.
"It's the responsibility of leaders, committee chairmen and others to step up and say, 'Listen, certain types of behavior are unacceptable for this body,' and members need to step up to their responsibility - to put their own political ambitions ahead of what's best for the country is wrong and they need to be called out on it," he said.
In the letter to leadership, the members claimed that while there is a place for debate between parties, things have escalated to a point where substantial change is needed to put the country back on track and prevent future violent uprisings. The group said that while leaders may face difficult circumstances, they need to show courage to improve the political climate, calling for the abandonment of the "win-at-all-costs mentality" they feel has hindered lawmakers from working together on key issues.
"Even after leaving Congress, we continue to be political and partisan beings, with often very different views of how to solve the many challenges our country faces. But we could never imagine a day when political fervor caused blood to be shed in the People's House," they wrote.
"The nation needs to hear from you, that you are united in leading the country out of these dark times. We appreciate like no other group the pressures exerted on Members of Congress and Congressional Leadership by outside forces, and we realize the great political courage that we are asking of our elected representatives.
"Yes, you are the leaders of your parties and you are tasked with seeing your party's platform and values succeed. But much more importantly at this moment in our nation's history, you are the leaders of the Article One Branch, entrusted with putting in place legislation to make the nation better and the union stronger."
The ex-lawmakers said the new administration could provide an opportunity for parties to come together in a time where they will need to tackle pressing issues like pandemic response, rebuilding the economy and addressing homeland security.
"I think with the new administration, the inaugural was such a different scene [than the riot] at the same Capitol that suggested that there is hope and there are ways we can move forward in a positive sense," former Rep. L.F. Payne (D-Va.), the president-elect of FMC and one of the founding members of the Blue Dog Coalition, told The Hill.
Payne said that groups like the Problem Solvers Caucus, the Blue Dog Coalition and the Tuesday Group could play a key role in stopping the gridlock, noting the razor-thin majorities in both chambers will require members to come together if they are going to make laws.
"I think it's important because the majority is a sort of both in the House and the Senate it really will require bipartisanship to get anything done," he said.
Payne added that while the FMC has long been dedicated to advocating for members of Congress to work together, the insurrection sparked them to call on leadership to advocate for lawmakers to listen to each other and restore respect for one another in the legislative branch.
"Over the next four years, we will have vigorous and passionate debates as a country over policy and initiatives, as well we should. But these clashes of ideas must never again become sources of bloodshed," the group wrote in the letter.
"We are imploring our Congressional Leadership, specifically Leaders McConnell and Schumer, and Speaker Pelosi and Leader McCarthy, to lead by example. Be an example to the Democratic and Republican caucuses by promoting those voices that seek solutions rather than divisions."