Opinion: How to build a new generation of Biden-McCain friendship

Editor’s note: Kara Alaimo, associate professor at Hofstra University’s Lawrence Herbert School of Communication, writes about issues affecting women and social media. In the Obama administration, he was the spokesman for international affairs in the Department of the Treasury. The opinions expressed in this comment are his own. See more reviews on CNN.


The late Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain was a close friend of President Joe Biden when they served together in the Senate, according to his wife Cindy McCain. In a video he recorded during Biden’s presidential campaign, he recalled how they would “sit and joke around” at family picnics in Biden’s backyard. It was like a comedy show, sometimes, watching them both.’

At McCain’s funeral, the president said: “My name is Joe Biden. I’m a Democrat. And I loved John McCain.”

The relationship seems to have influenced policy making. Biden reportedly had an “emotional debate” with McCain before McCain became one of three Republicans who cast a critical vote against repealing the Affordable Care Act in 2017.

Similarly, former Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah said he was “very close friends” with the late Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts. The two men, who were ideologically opposed in many ways, nevertheless worked together to pass bipartisan legislation like the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. At one point, in the middle of a disagreement, Kennedy deployed a staff member to serenade Hatch’s office in an effort to broker peace.

These days, it is rarer to hear such stories.

In his book “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion,” Jonathan Haidt describes a phenomenon described by former Iowa Republican Jim Leach: “Prior to 1995, members of Congress from both parties participated in many of the same social events on weekends. ; their spouses became friends; their children played on the same sports teams. But today most members of Congress fly to Washington on Monday night, meet with their teammates and wrestle for three days, and fly home on Thursday night. Cross-party friendships disappear they are… The scorched earth policy is increasing.

The new senators and representatives elected last week will enter a Congress that is more polarized than at any time in the past 50 years, according to a 2022 analysis by the Pew Research Center.

Members of Congress have also become less civil. Between 2009 and 2019, the incivility of senators and representatives on Twitter increased by 23%, according to a 2022 study published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

It will take a lot to overcome this. Here’s a small but positive way to start: Members of Congress should move their families to live with them in Washington, DC.

Brad Fitch, president and CEO of the nonpartisan Congressional Management Foundation, told me there’s no official data on where members of Congress live, but “the percentage of members of the 117th Congress who live in the Washington area is very small.” he estimates that less than 20% of citizens have moved their families to the nation’s capital.In contrast, he says, 20 to 30 years ago, most members of Congress moved their families to Washington when they took office.

Things changed in 1995 when then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich pushed his party to keep families in the suburbs. Now, many members return home on weekends to see their families and constituents and fundraise. With this type of work schedule, members of opposing parties are unlikely to be friends; they may not know each other.

Not surprisingly, between 1989 (when more members of Congress lived with their families in Washington, DC) and 2017, the number of bipartisan bills introduced in the first legislative session each year dropped by 30%, according to Quorum, a public affairs software company. .

But if their children went to school together and became friends (something that would naturally happen if they all lived in the capital), or met their spouses for dinner, they might have a chance to come to see each other as decent human beings. creatures

That would make it much harder to turn around and throw vitriol at each other on Twitter. It’s easy to attack someone you don’t know. It is much less comfortable to call the neighbor you meet across town or the person you sit behind at your children’s school a nasty name.

If they lived in the same place, the members of Congress would also inevitably get to know each other better. That could help cultivate a Biden-McCain or Hatch-Kennedy type of relationship that could make more bilateral deals.

One challenge would be the cost of maintaining housing for their families in both locations. The cost of living in Washington, DC is 39% higher than the national average, according to job site Payscale. So it might be much cheaper for members of Congress to share an apartment with some colleagues while they’re in Washington and leave their families at home.

Members also have an incentive to maintain some additional housing in their districts if they want to run for re-election, as the US Constitution says a member of Congress must “be a resident” of the state to be represented. .

Members of Congress have not received a raise since 2009. Their salary is $174,000. While that’s far more than the average American, it could still become a challenge to maintain a second home in such an expensive city. But if members of Congress were to pass legislation to provide additional housing subsidies to those who move their families to Washington, D.C., it would be worth the investment.

The partisanship and incivility plaguing Congress 118. Members of Congress will find it difficult to overcome their differences. But making their first home in the nation’s capital could foster the kinds of old-fashioned bipartisan friendships that could make the House (and the Senate) more civil and productive over time.