March 30, 2015 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Senators Try to Revive Bipartisan Spirit

Douglas Graham/Roll Call
Sens. Mark Kirk (left) and Joe Manchin ditch their caucus lunches every Thursday to eat together. Other Members are invited to stop by.

We like to talk football, were from adjoining states, and we got elected in the same year. We enjoy having dinner together, Alexander said.

Although his bipartisan breakfasts once attended by 40 Members grew harder and harder to schedule, Alexander hasnt given up his hope of bringing Democrats and Republicans together. He now works with Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) to host wine-and-cheese receptions in the Rules Committee Room following Monday night votes. On average, 10 to 12 attend.

But the time issue always circles back. Alexanders numerous experiences scheduling bipartisan events have taught him that bringing Democrats and Republicans together is no easy feat.

Most of our days start at 6 a.m., and theyre not over until after dinner or at night, he said. The Senate is a busy group of 100 men and women, and its difficult to insert anything else into those schedules.

Its hard for them to find free time, said Morella, who is now an American University faculty member. Situations dont bring them together; its not their fault.

Manchin said Members should make bipartisan activities a higher priority. He and Kirk plan to continue their bipartisan dates and hope their colleagues will eventually follow suit.

But in todays Congressional culture, thats improbable. After a recent luncheon, Manchin invited Kirk to a Democratic budget meeting. Kirk hesitated because the meetings are typically partisan affairs, but Manchin wanted to shake things up.

That turned out to be harder than they thought. When Kirk entered the room full of Democrats in the middle of Sen. Kent Conrads (D-N.D.) budget briefing, he was asked to leave. The meeting was Democrats only.

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