State Watch

Governors lament ‘existential threat’ of partisanship in Washington

Associated Press/Alex Brandon

State governors who gathered in Washington, D.C., over the weekend sounded the alarm over the partisan divide in Congress, and the breakdown of personal relationships that once greased the wheels of collaboration. 

“This toxicity, this divisiveness and fighting over stuff that really doesn’t matter in the big scheme of things, is an existential threat not just to our country, but to the world,” said Utah Gov. Spencer Cox (R), who was among the state leaders who attended the four-day National Governors Association meeting.

Cox ran for governor against Democrat Chris Peterson in 2020, when the two released a joint campaign ad promising to respect the election results, ensure a peaceful transition of power and practice political civility. 

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R), who has warned his party against relitigating the 2020 election ahead of upcoming elections, recalled his time as a House member from 1997 to 2001. 

He cited bipartisan retreats and more frequent congressional delegations as key to keeping Congress collaborating. “That no longer happens,” Hutchinson said.

Carlyle Group co-founder and co-CEO David Rubenstein, who moderated Sunday’s discussion with Hutchinson and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D), suggested that a reason for this shift might be the pressure on members of Congress to fundraise for the next election, pulling them away from Capitol Hill.  

“It’s also the limited time that they spend in the social network,” said Hutchinson of interpersonal relationships with fellow lawmakers. “Now, it’s three days in and you’re back in your district. And so you’re isolated from everyone else.”

Hutchinson also said social media was partly to blame, saying it has “taken humanity out of relationships,” while its use in politics “goes against a bipartisan structure, or even a humane structure.”

Murphy said that despite being a proud Democrat, “it’s not as though you have to give up your principles in order to find common ground.”

Murphy called the bipartisan infrastructure bill passed by Congress a model of across-the-aisle collaboration and lauded President Biden’s efforts to bring Democrats and Republicans together. 

“This is not a flame-thrower, right?” Murphy said of Biden. “This is a guy who tries to find — he’s been in Washington for 40 odd years. He is in this line of business for the right reasons.”

In May, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said, “One-hundred percent of our focus is on stopping this new administration.”

Biden, who was vice president when Republicans repeatedly blocked President Obama’s agenda, said he has been surprised by GOP opposition to his administration. 

“One thing I haven’t been able to do so far is get my Republican friends to get in the game of making things better in this country,” Biden said at a Jan. 19 press conference

“I did not anticipate that there’d be such a stalwart effort to make sure that the most important thing was that President Biden didn’t get anything done.”

Public polling shows that much of the U.S. agrees with the governors’ concerns about what a dearth of bipartisanship in Congress means for the country. 

A poll conducted earlier this month by NPR-Ipsos found that most Americans believe “that American democracy is in crisis and at risk of failing,” while a Bipartisan Policy Center-Morning Consult poll found that two-thirds of respondents wanted Congress to work across party lines to pass legislation and address big issues. 

Another poll from Public Agenda and USA Today in September found that most Americans feel partisanship has had a negative effect on government functions like conducting elections and dealing with the pandemic, though most respondents were pessimistic that the divide can be bridged.

“I just feel, and I think there’s a fair amount of evidence, there’s a very big chunk of our country that is desperate for us to find common ground,” said Murphy on Sunday.

Tags Asa Hutchinson Barack Obama Joe Biden Mitch McConnell National Governors Association partisanship Phil Murphy Spencer Cox
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