A Democrat and a Republican ask, ‘Can we be friends again?’

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We are political adversaries of a sort. One of us chaired the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, while the other chaired the National Republican Campaign Committee. We differ on impeachment. We are not naive enough to believe there is any way of reconciling our opinions on these issues. We do, however, share this common concern.

No matter where the process leads, it will further polarize America. This means both sides must find ways to hold their respective opinions without losing common ground. It may sound like a platitude, but it is not. In all our years in the political arena, we have not seen the level of derision and divisiveness that we see today. If you are a Democrat you probably blame Republicans. If you are a Republican, you probably blame Democrats. If you are an independent, you parcel blame to both parties.

Those perceptions may ebb and flow, but they run deep. We have heard the stories of battle lines and “disarmament zones” designated at family dinner tables, and of friendships ended over political loyalties. Assuming the impeachment process continues, these divisions may grow even sharper and deeper. This leads to an important question. Can people on opposite ends of ideology and world views maintain friendships?

One of the lessons learned in politics is that Democrats and Republicans will disagree 80 percent of the time. That is baked into the proverbial cake. There is a reason we pick our political parties. They are structures and networks that nurture our individual belief systems. Instead of beating each other up on 80 percent of issues where we will never agree, we must focus on the 20 percent where consensus is possible.

Take, for example, Democrat Barbara Lee and Republican French Hill. You could not possibly find two members of Congress further apart on ideology. But they have joined together to introduce legislation to restore federal Pell Grants for incarcerated people. Or take Republican Peter King, a staunch supporter of President Trump, and Democrat Carolyn Maloney, one of his most outspoken critics. The two New York lawmakers set ideology aside to pass a bill providing permanent health benefits to workers who responded to 9/11. President Trump signed the law.

There are numerous other examples. The Stopping Bad Robocalls Act included the likes of progressive Ro Khanna and conservative Billy Long. Nine members from the left to the right from Anna Eschoo to Brett Guthrie cosponsored the Sustaining Excellence in Medicaid Act introduced by Debbie Dingell, which President Trump signed. When Democrat John Lewis introduced the Taxpayer First Act, which focuses on cybersecurity and protecting taxpayers from identity theft, his cosponsors included Republican Kevin Brady and Democrat Alexandria Ocasio Cortez.

We even saw ideological opposites come together two Sundays ago, when Ellen DeGeneres and former President Bush accompanied each other to a football game between the Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys. There is certainly space on Capitol Hill for finding common ground among political combatants. It may be small and narrow, and the ceasefires may be short and limited. But in a divided environment like the one we are in today, they can make a significant difference.

Most members of Congress have come to regard their primary elections as their major obstacle to reelection. They spend their time, spin their rhetoric, and focus their votes on catering to primary voters, a thin ideological slice of the electoral pie. But winning is not everything. The damage to the institution that uncontained and elevated conflict brings cannot be easily undone. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill indeed have a great opportunity to set an example for the country to follow.

If political combatants can find even modest opportunities to focus on shared concerns, we all can. All it takes is understanding the reality that we will disagree fundamentally on most issues, however, that does not foreclose agreement on some issues. Except for the Nationals and the Mets. On that, there is no room for compromise by either of us.

Steve Israel represented New York in Congress for 16 years and served as the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 2011 to 2015. He is now the director of the Institute of Politics and Global Affairs at Cornell University. Tom Davis represented Virginia in Congress for 13 years and served as the chairman of the National Republican Campaign Committee from 1999 to 2003. He is now a partner with the international law firm of Holland and Knight and the rector of George Mason University.

Tags Congress Democrats Donald Trump Election Politics President Republicans

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