Three U.S. Congressional Representatives spoke recently at an American University event, sharing their thoughts on the polarization of American politics and efforts to foster bipartisanship. The event was organized in partnership with The Hill, AU School of Public Affairs, and AU's Kennedy Political Union.
Rep. Mia Love (R-Utah), the first female African-American Republican member of Congress, came to Congress in 2014 after serving as mayor of Saratoga Springs, Utah, where she said politics wasn't as partisan.
"Our kids went to the same schools, we shopped at same stores. If we had a little more of that in Washington, we'd be able to solve more problems," said Love. "The political parties make people choose sides. There are a lot interested institutions that come into play and tell people what to think before they are able to digest the information themselves."
Love promoted her "One Subject at a Time Act" as a way to simplify legislation and encourage cooperation on issues across the aisle. It would prohibit unrelated provisions from getting tacked onto bills at the last minute.
"We have to allow transparency and get people engaged in the process and they can use their own minds to make a decision for themselves," said Love. "The House of Representatives is supposed to be the branch that is closest to the people."
Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-NY) shared with the crowd that he thought good ideas should not have a political label.
"We must continue to find that common ground among both parties," he said. "I believe in a big tent approach to politics. If you believe in that, you have to listen to everybody including your political opponents."
Yet coming to Washington this year, Espaillat said he was surprised by the level of combativeness and extreme partisanship.
On the big issues, Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL) said he expected division but has found cooperation on smaller bills. Working across the aisle was required when he was in the Florida legislature and Soto said he has tried to do the same since taking office in Washington this year. He mentioned amendments with bipartisan support such as a move to hold foreign oiler drillers liable for oil spills.
"You can get things done in Congress if you work together," said Soto.
At the event, SPA Interim Dean Vicky Wilkins said AU takes very seriously its role as a convener of critical conversations on issues such bipartisanship.
"We think that having discussion and discourse is part of our strategic vision to train and inspire the next generation of leaders," said Wilkins. "For SPA, the topic of bipartisanship and idea of overcoming opposition through compromise fits squarely with what we do and motivates the work of many of our faculty and students."
As director of the Kennedy Political Union, the nonpartisan speakers' bureau on campus, Shyheim Snead (SPA/BA '18) helped launch the forum. He said it was helpful for students to hear directly from lawmakers actively engaged in the policy discussions talk honestly about the difficulties and rewards of bipartisanship.
"It was a real candid conversation about how to solve problems as opposed to this side versus that side," said Snead, who is majoring in political science, with a minor in education. "I left hopeful that folks are thinking about their role in Congress and their constituents."
This was the first in a series of events organized by The Hill, AU School of Public Affairs, and AU's Kennedy Political Union. The next event will be held on March 21.