U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., has received widely favorable reviews in political commentary for his efforts in the past month to create substantial bipartisan dialogue in Congress off the floor of the Senate.
Wicker suggested and succeeded in shaping the all-Senate caucus in mid-July that led to aversion of a potentially shattering vote on rules changes, and he led the effort last week for another bipartisan caucus of all senators (a Georgia-flavored barbecue meal) before the August recess started. It was less substantial than the first bipartisan conversation, as Wicker noted, but it was civil, collegial, even convivial conversation outside the usual partisan divides.
Wicker, who is as thoroughgoing a conservative as one can find, recognizes the inclusive message of nationwide polling: 10 percent and less of citizens believe Congress is doing a good job. The results apply to Democrats and Republicans. The results in the past month of polling are among the worst since Gallup started asking those questions in 1976, and as others like Rasmussen routinely now ask every month or more often.
Wicker, who served 13 years in the U.S. House before going to the Senate, also served in the Mississippi Senate.
His state Senate service was certainly in a less partisan atmosphere, and he thrived. His U.S. House service was in a slightly less partisan time, and he was effective and had friends across aisles.
Wicker correctly noted last week that when partisanship became more intense on Capitol Hill it coincided with a decline in the representatives and senators who live, with their families, full time in and around Washington. Commuting has drastically reduced the amount of time members of the Senate and House could spend in bipartisan friendships and conversations even if they chose.
Wicker said he hopes that additional bipartisan full-Senate caucuses can happen through open, civil, respectful conversations, eventually becoming productive legislation. Wicker said good could be gained if something of the kind of personal and political relationship enjoyed, with respect, by the late President Ronald Reagan and the late Speaker Tip O’Neill, could be regained. Both of them remained true to their convictions, and they fought with full energy. But it was not a relationship of personal animosity or exclusion as so often seems to characterize opposites in Congress today.
Some Mississippi senators and representatives through the years have been less collegial than others, but the ones best remembered for accomplishments are the ones who kept conversations and minds open.
As Wicker said, agreement can be found even in some of the most divisive issues, and that is the way the institution endures.