Years of hyperpartisan warfare culminate Thursday in two of the most contentious events in Congressional history: the Supreme Court’s judgment on the Affordable Care Act and a House vote on holding Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress.
But for institutionalists who remember a calmer, more familial atmosphere in Washington, Thursday also represents an increasingly rare moment to celebrate the fading atmosphere of bipartisan collegiality — the annual CQ Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game.
Hopefully, “it’s a way to work off some energy or frustration. Maybe our guys will swing at the ball a little harder,” Rep. Mike Doyle (Pa.), the manager for the Democrats’ team, quipped Wednesday.
Doyle, who is an 18-year veteran of the baseball game, said he doubts Thursday's daylong partisan brawl will bleed over into the game.
“You can’t make it a personal thing. … There may be a few people who carry that animosity, but it’s a minority,” Doyle said, adding that the players “genuinely like one another. We’ve built up a camaraderie.”
Rep. Joe Crowley, who is also playing, joked, “Who says we’re not partisan when we play baseball? It’s the most legal form of partisanship allowed!”
Turning serious, the gregarious New York Democrat agreed with Doyle. “These things come and go, but this is a tradition here, and it’s raising money for a good cause.”
When asked whether it is difficult to put aside partisan rancor, Rep. Jeff Flake dismissed it out of hand.
“We don’t have to. We can multitask here. You’ve seen us play,” the Arizona Republican said.
It’s worth noting that at no point were leaders even entertaining the thought of keeping their chambers in session for late votes and risking the 7:05 p.m. first pitch. And just last week, female Members from both chambers and sides of the aisle teamed up to take on the Capitol press corps in the Congressional Women’s Softball game.
And past iterations of the traditional baseball summertime event — which raises money for the Washington Literacy Council and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington — have come during eras of heightened political rancor.
For instance, last year’s game was unfortunately timed to occur during the ugly debt ceiling fight, which pitted not only the House and Senate, Democrats and Republicans, against one another, but also resulted in GOP intraparty fights.
And of course, the 1998 Congressional game occurred in the midst of Republican efforts to impeach President Bill Clinton, one of the most bitterly partisan moments of the modern era.
But this year the game comes at a turning point in Congress’ history. An angry electorate is threatening to again put out of office rank-and-file Members with decades of experience in favor of fresh faces who, along with 2010’s record-sized freshman class, have little connection to Washington’s old ways.
Decorum has also increasingly become frayed in Washington. Whether it be Rep. Joe Wilson’s (R-S.C.) infamous “You lie!” outburst during President Barack Obama’s address to a joint session of Congress or the Daily Caller’s Neil Munro interrupting Obama during a Rose Garden address, the old notions of civility are in danger.
Even the small traditions that have often acted as the glue for the Congressional community in contentious eras are being abandoned.
Earlier this month, the Senate abandoned “Seersucker Thursday.” The tradition — while exceedingly goofy — has typically been one that lawmakers from all political stripes (so to speak) have observed with good humor, posing together in bipartisan packs in the halls outside the Senate chamber with the Southern wear on display.
And while the tradition held on for more than a decade — despite years in which two wars raged, the economy collapsed, and other major issues faced the nation — this year leadership called it off in order to focus on “serious” issues.
“You can’t get serious things done because you don’t have events where you can enjoy each other’s company,” former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) told the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank this week.
Rep. Joe Barton (Texas), who is coaching the GOP baseball team, acknowledged the collapse of traditional ways in which lawmakers developed bipartisan relationships.
“Before jet airplanes, if you got elected you had to pretty much move your family here,” said Barton, who noted that when he was first elected in 1984, he received two round-trip train tickets each year as part of his Congressional stipend.
“We’re not around each other in D.C. as much as previous Congresses. And that’s good and bad,” Barton said, noting that while lawmakers can spend more time in their communities, “it does make it more difficult to develop the interpersonal relationships” that have normally helped grease the wheels of legislating.
But at least for one night, Republicans and Democrats appear ready to come together as a community.
“We’ve had impeachment votes and such, so it’s not a new thing,” Doyle said.
And there’s even some hope for seersucker, as Milbank noted. Some Senators, such as freshman Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), a partisan-as-they-come tea party favorite, ignored the directive last week that Seersucker Thursday was canceled, and donned Lott’s favorite summertime suit fabric.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.