Sens. Richard M. Burr, R-N.C., and Bob Casey, D-Pa., were honored at Research!America's annual advocacy awards dinner at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium, the organization's nod to their commitment to private and public sector medical research and innovation.
But things took an interesting turn, when former Rep. John Edward Porter — now chairman of the board of Research!America — took aim at Congress, accusing both parties of "idiotic posturing that is supposed to pass as governing."
"The United States preaches democracy to the world. Our founders gave us a strong framework for making inclusive decisions," the Illinois Republican said. "Then we do everything possible to scam the system for partisan advantage."
The crowd, if somewhat surprised by the scathing attack, lapped it up.
Next, taking aim at the mischievous gerrymandering of congressional districts, Porter said the political system is engineered "to maximize party advantage" and to shut out the moderate voices, denying them "any meaningful role" in an increasingly closed off electoral process.
But he wasn't quite done yet.
Porter next took aim at the more logistical aspects of how work gets done — or doesn't — on Capitol Hill.
"In our nation’s Capitol building, the trappings of partisanship are everywhere evident," he said. Parties have "separate leadership tables, separate cloakrooms, separate floor offices and separate staffs, all paid for by the public."
It results, he said, in an atmosphere that discourages interaction and bipartisanship, where people learn to treat their colleagues as the "enemy."
"Let’s make the parties end mindless sequesters, stupid debt ceiling fights and ongoing abdication of governing responsibilities," he said.
Diane Rehm, author and host of WAMU 88.5 and NPR’s “The Diane Rehm Show," was also honored by the research organization for her effect on public opinion, for emphasizing the value of research and increasing the level of awareness about science and health.
Rehm implored guests to do everything they can to help ensure more research funding particularly for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, something she said will in some way touch "all of us" at some point in our lives.
Rehm's husband is suffering from Parkinson's disease and is now in an assisted-living facility.