Time and again, members of Congress say that spending just a little bit more social time with lawmakers from the other party would go a long way to calming the bilious nature of legislative life.
They’ll soon have another opportunity to test the theory. The Washington Nationals announced that the June 5 game against the New York Mets is being turned into something of a congressional social. It will include a members’ only reception beforehand, a big bloc of right field seats set aside for lawmakers and their aides, the Capitol Police doing color guard duty and a chorus of 90 staffers belting out the National Anthem.
And, even though the party is cash bar and the seats cost $34, tickets have already been sold to 71 House members — one sixth of the membership.
Senators haven’t been recruited to get in on the action. But the two House members who have been working for almost a year to put the event together — as a gesture toward improved civility, if not genuine camaraderie — are confident that word of mouth will get at least another 30 of their colleagues to show up as paying customers.
The two are David B. McKinley, a second-term Republican from West Virginia, and Diana DeGette, a ninth-term Democrat from Colorado, who hatched the idea while trying to get to know each another better from their nearby seats on the dais at the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Given the number of political fundraisers scheduled by incumbents in both parties on a typical summer evening in the middle of the week, and given that June 5 is also the night of the Radio and Television Correspondents' Association Dinner, one of the bigger annual mingles for both politicians and journalists, a turnout of more than 100 would be a marvel. It would be a decent sign that members really are as eager as they say to kick back, have a beer and shoot the breeze for a couple of hours with colleagues they oppose at every turn during the work day.
(Boosting the potential for a good turnout is the fact that $5 from every ticket sold to a lawmaker or Hill staffer will be donated to the Wounded Warrior Project.)
Adding to the opportunity for some genuine bonding is the fact that the politicians will be relatively obscure in the crowd, which will likely top 25,000, because even lowly New York teams tend to swell the Nationals' gate.
As such, they’ll maybe have better opportunity to let their collective guard down more easily than at the big can’t-we-all-just-get-along photo opportunity institutionalized after the Gabrielle Giffords shooting two years ago. That was a carefully orchestrated transforming of the State of the Union congressional audience into a throng of bipartisan double-daters.
Members say sitting under the TV lights and beneath the panning cameras for that event wasn't all that conducive to schmoozing, let alone genuine relationship building. Neither was the absence of food and drink. No one has the naïve view that one night at the ballpark will cause collaboration to break out across the Capitol, but it can’t hurt.
And if there are budding friendships that need a boost, the next opportunity is just a week later and back in the same venue, when the Republicans take on the Democrats in the 52nd Annual CQ Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game.