U.S. Rep. Tom Reed, R-N.Y., was an earlyDonald Trump supporter and applauds the president’s performance to date. U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., is a Trump opponent who feels “very strongly that we have to get to the bottom of” the Russia hacking story. Yet the two members of Congress are doing something very strange for Washington these days: working together, on a bipartisan basis, to try to get things done.
The two are leaders of the Problem Solvers Caucus, which to date boasts 20 Republican representatives and 20 Democratic representatives. The caucus, an outgrowth of the No Labels organization (Motto: “Stop fighting. Start fixing”), isn’t new, but this year it has adopted rules that could give it more clout in Congress. If three-quarters of its members, including at least half the delegations of each party, vote for a position, the entire caucus will vote that way on the floor. Armed with this potential for influence, the caucus met with House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., last week, and a meeting with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is in the works.
No one would argue that this is going to end polarization in the United States. It remains to be seen what the 40 can agree on among themselves, let alone whether they can drag the rest of the House along with them. But at a time when party members are tempted to view the other side as enemies rather than well-intentioned opponents, their commitment to governing should be applauded. They helped push adoption of the continuing resolution on this year’s budget, which avoided a government shutdown, and they said they are hoping to play a similarly constructive role when the debt ceiling needs to be raised and budget caps are set for next year.
The Problem Solvers Caucus isn't alone in trying to restore some bipartisanship to governing. Issue One, a nonprofit dedicated to campaign finance reform, has recruited 180 former members of Congress, 45 percent of whom are Republican, according to executive director Nick Penniman.
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“The folks who sent me here don’t want me to take a pure obstructionist approach,” Gottheimer told us. “They want me to sit at the table and try to get things done.” Added Reed: “Some have classified it as treason – the people on the extremes, who just want to play shirts versus skins. But the appetite for this is strong.”
The Trump presidency has sharpened divisions and heightened the challenge for people wanting to work across the aisle, Reed and Gottheimer both said. But they also said it hasn’t lessened the urgency of trying. “I believe at the end of the day, people want us to govern, and that’s what they’ll judge us on,” Reed said. Agreed his Democratic co-chair: “I believe in accountability – but I also believe in progress.”