Starting Wednesday, the day after President Trump addresses Congress for the first time, there’s a two-day event in Washington alien to the politics we’ve come to know.
I’m talking out there, way out there. Like those seven Earthlike planets that astronomers say are 40 light-years away. That’s 235 trillion miles.
Then again, the politics we’ve come to know is out there, too.
The Women’s March, travel-ban resistance, rising citizen contact with Congress, rowdy town-hall meetings, protests to get town-hall meetings, fears about Obamacare — all fuel ideological anger that’s at or near a boiling point.
So maybe it’s good that this other thing’s coming. Maybe a calming balm is needed.
It’s run by the national nonpartisan group No Labels. It includes a “National Problem Solvers” strategy conference Wednesday and a march Thursday through the halls of Congress, complete with “Fix not Fight” T-shirts.
The group says 1,000 people from all 50 states are coming to D.C. at their own expense to push compromise and bipartisanship.
Which makes one wonder: Since the political driver of the moment is anger and division, isn’t this the worst time to sell togetherness?
“We are well aware of that,” No Labels spokesman Ryan Clancy tells me. But, he says, with Republicans controlling Washington, “gridlock might not be such a problem, so this could be the time, more than ever, when you need cooperation.”
Maybe so. But I’d note this togetherness push has a little bite.
No Labels has been around since 2010. It’s cochaired by Jon Huntsman, former Republican Utah governor and former ambassador to China, and Joe Lieberman, former Connecticut independent senator and 2000 Democratic VP nominee.
It has advocated commonsense cooperation for years. Now it’s getting serious.
It’s pledging to raise $50 million for a super PAC to push or protect what it calls “problem-solvers” while working to oust hard partisans in 2018 primaries.
It did a test-run in two 2016 congressional primaries. Candidates it backed — a Republican in Kansas, a Democrat in Florida — won.
Money comes from a handful of billionaires, including current and former hedge-fund managers, and other major donors from both parties, Clancy says.
There’s even an affiliated congressional Problem Solvers Caucus that just sent a letter to Trump seeking a meeting on tax reform and infrastructure funding.
The letter’s signed by 35 House members (18 Republicans, 17 Democrats), including Pennsylvania Republicans Ryan Costello, Charlie Dent, Brian Fitzpatrick, Pat Meehan, and Glenn Thompson.
The caucus is recruiting members and hopes to expand to the Senate.
Freshman Congressman Fitzpatrick (Bucks County, parts of Montgomery) says he’s sold on the idea because of Washington’s “hyperpartisanship.”
“It’s time for civil dialogue and bipartisanship and reaching across the aisle to fix problems,” he says, “not ramming an ideological agenda down peoples’ throats.”
Fourth-term U.S. Rep. Meehan (most of Delaware County, parts of Chester, Berks, Lancaster, and Montgomery) says the caucus has “real potential to get things done in this session.” He adds, “The opportunity for tax reform to be coupled with infrastructure looks like a pairing to generate bipartisan support.”
The premise of “problem solvers” is that between folks attending Trump rallies and folks screaming at GOP congressmen is a large slice of citizenry that just wants broad-based stuff done.
But that would take a shift in evident White House priorities. It would mean more focus on the wants of most of society (taxes, infrastructure fixes, for example) and less focus on the wants of some of society (more deportations, a southern border wall).
It would take more cooperation; in essence, no political labels. It would take something other than the politics we’ve come to know.
It is, in other words, wholly worthwhile.