Heard on the Hill

Civility Pledge Signers ‘Disagree Without Being Disagreeable’ in a Tumultuous Congress

HOH talked to 18 freshman members who signed pledge earlier this year

From left, Reps. Lou Correa of California, Brian Mast of Florida and Scott Taylor of Virginia walk down the House steps after the group photo for the freshman class during orientation week in November 2016. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House freshmen who signed a civility pledge say they’ve been able to live up to their agreement to “disagree without being disagreeable” and even strike up some friendships amid a rancorous Congress.

Rep. Mike Johnson, the author of the pledge that the lawmakers signed in January, said his model for civility is former President Ronald Reagan.

“He and [former House Speaker] Tip O’Neill famously had this friendship. They didn’t agree on anything politically, almost, but they were able to work together and work out compromises and that is what is required in the Congress,” the Louisiana Republican said.

Watch: Freshman Lawmakers Say Civility Pledge Challenging but Worth It

“It’s not easy to work in a bipartisan way but it’s so important,” Florida Democrat Stephanie Murphy said.

Nothing brings members together like working on legislation — even lawmakers who served in opposing administrations. 

California Democrat Ro Khanna, who was a deputy assistant secretary in the Commerce Department under President Barack Obama, and Texas Republican Jodey C. Arrington, who spent a decade working in George W. Bush’s gubernatorial and presidential administrations, collaborated on a bill pushing for term limits.

“You have relationships when you have that commitment to mutual respect. That’s what civility is,” Arrington said.

[Freshman Civility Pledge Reflections Part 1: Across-the-Aisle Friendships]

They won’t always agree on hot topics, such as the current battle over taxes.

“There will always be times that we’re going to have issues that we disagree on. The tax bill that will come to head. … We’re going to probably disagree on,” California Democrat Jimmy Panetta said.

But that doesn’t stop them from being respectful of divergent opinions about other top issues such as immigration and infrastructure, according to Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick.

“When you have that mentality that everyone’s going to be bringing something unique and different to the table and respect that and cherish that, it just leads to a very different tone,” the Pennsylvania Republican said.

The civility pledge held up during the health care debates, Rep. Salud Carbajal said.

“It was a trying time, there was a lot of tense moments, but, again, if you adhere to the fact that we can have strong debates, we can disagree without being disagreeable,” the California Democrat said. “We should do everything possible to not demagogue each other.”

Often, President Donald Trump can roil the waters.

“I must admit when I’m … overseeing the House floor, and sometimes when people do make personal attacks on, say, the president, it does hurt my heart. But I understand they’re trying to represent their constituency and just give them the benefit of the doubt,” Kansas GOP Rep. Roger Marshall said.

“It’s been a very contentious first year for a freshman in this environment,” Minnesota Republican Jason Lewis said. “But I think if you stay focused on the issues and why you came here — to leave the place a little better than you found it — it becomes a lot easier.”

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