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, we’re 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 hasn’t 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. Alexander’s 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 they’re not over until after dinner or at night,” he said. The Senate “is a busy group of 100 men and women, and it’s difficult to insert anything else into those schedules.”
“It’s hard for them to find free time,” said Morella, who is now an American University faculty member. “Situations don’t bring them together; it’s 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 today’s Congressional culture, that’s 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 Conrad’s (D-N.D.) budget briefing, he was asked to leave. The meeting was “Democrats only.”