TURES COLUMN: Evidence of Congressional bipartisanship

Published 11:30 am Thursday, July 21, 2022

It’s common for political extremists to get the media’s attention and for pundits to claim that there is no cooperation across party lines. But as the Lugar Center’s Bipartisan Index shows, some senators and house members work with their political opponents to pass meaningful legislation. I interviewed Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock of Georgia to see how it’s done.

Senator Richard Lugar, an Indiana Republican who served for decades, often reached out to Democrats in the upper chamber. The Lugar Center has a Bipartisan Index which eschews votes in favor of Senators and Representatives who co-sponsor legislation members of the opposite party.

When I informed Sen. Warnock about his strong ranking by the Lugar Center for working with Republicans, he replied “I didn’t do it for a number on an index. It’s about putting the people you represent at the center.”

Warnock’s background may have helped prepare him for working with some in the G.O.P.  “When you’re a reverend, it’s natural to work with others,” he said in the phone interview.

Take the recent gun debate after the Uvalde shooting. “Neither side will get all it wants,” he explained to me. “But it would be a moment of moral failure if 19 babies were slaughtered and we got nothing done. Doing nothing can’t be the best response. There isn’t this type of carnage anywhere else.”

As an example of reaching out, Warnock noted how both parties are far apart on the abortion.  “But too many women are dying in childbirth. We have to do something about that.”

That’s why Senator Warnock decided to work with Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio on “Improving Coordination for Healthy Moms” Act. We talked about how the two broke down the “silos” of politics, with staff meetings and open conversations. “But most people aren’t Republicans and Democrats. They’re dads and moms. When you center around that, there are surprising opportunities to work with others.”

“It’s time for the United States to address the alarming rates of maternal mortality and morbidity impacting the diverse communities across our nation,” Senator Rubio (R-FL) noted in a press release. “This is a common-sense bill that will streamline federal efforts to improve maternal and infant health, and I will work to make sure it becomes law.”

It’s a myth that anyone who works across party aisles can only be a moderate, or lacks an ideology. 

“To be bipartisan does not mean to be a centrist or to seek compromise for its own sake,” wrote former Senator Lugar and Edward Montgomery in 2015. “We are not asking members to alter or deny their political principles. Some of the legislators who rank high on the index are Democrats and Republicans firmly on the left and right wings of their respective parties.”

Though Lugar and Montgomery expressed concern seven years ago about trends in partisanship, Senators like Warnock and Rubio, as well as Susan Collins, Maggie Hassan, and Rob Portman are showing that bipartisanship isn’t just possible, but also something that benefits all Americans, pointing the way to a better future on Capitol Hill.