McDonald’s coffee in hand, the other on the steering wheel, Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) joined Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), in a Thursday seminar on bipartisanship while en route to D.C. to vote on a $484 billion stimulus package.
The seminar, hosted by the Institute of Politics and Global Affairs, was moderated by former congressman and institute director Steve Israel. The topic at hand: partisanship in the current health crisis climate, and whether COVID-19 would push the two parties closer together, or further to the margins.
(That stimulus package, which extends more funding for small businesses swallowed by financial fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, passed the House in a 388-5 vote on Thursday night. President Donald Trump is expected to sign the legislation.)
Reed and Gottheimer co-chair the House Problem Solver’s Caucus, a bipartisan group of 50 representatives dedicated to finding common ground on the foremost issues facing Americans. The caucus still meets routinely via video conference to discuss bipartisan solutions to problems posed by the pandemic.
Gottheimer remarked that he has seen increased bipartisan collaboration in the last two months. “After crises, like after 9/11 or a natural disaster, we see the country come together,” he said. “Unfortunately that’s what it often takes; a tragedy.”
Reed echoed that many of his colleagues have recently expressed a desire not just to engage in “political theater,” but to put political differences aside to get things done. “I still have that idealistic idea of what Congress is about; ‘I’m just a bill on Capitol Hill’.”
Both congressmen expressed their hope that the cooperative spirit that has emerged amid the chaos will last after the country recovers from the pandemic.
At the close of the talk, the congressmen prepared for the vote ahead of them — Gottheimer, in his D.C. office, donned his protective face mask and reviewed the new social distancing rules for voting in the chamber: “We’ll be in and out. They’ve broken us into staggered alphabetical groups, they’re wiping down all the buttons and cleaning in between votes,” he said.
The two both said that the caucus was exploring ways to use technology to continue to work and vote remotely, similar to the Supreme Court’s transition to phone call hearings.
Israel joked that when he appears on news programs for interviews that he can “hear the TV ratings dip” when he starts talking about partisan cooperation. Reed and Gottheimer concurred that, while not as thrilling as the typical partisan word slurry, bipartisan agreement is undercovered in national media and deserves more attention.
Israel also announced to the 250 Zoom attendees the inauguration of a new Cornell publication, the “Bipartisan Policy Review,” in which Reed and Gottheimer had penned a piece together on the delegation of military force. The mission of the Review, according to Israel, is to “give members of Congress a platform to talk about bipartisan cooperation on policy innovations.”