Create a bipartisan Members-only space in the Capitol to encourage more collaboration across party lines.
While transparency should remain paramount, it’s important to recognize that Members need opportunities to develop relationships away from the glare of camera lights. The House floor and the area leading to it are often filled with journalists and television cameras. In these situations, and under constant scrutiny, it can be difficult to have candid, bipartisan discussions. Former Representative Charles Boustany Jr. (LA-3), in a panel on the Organizational Climate of Crisis, offered telling insight about the negative repercussions of constant, public interactions:
“Social media gives us no space. One time, I was on the floor managing a bill… I was debating Sandy Levin. Good debate, high-level, on the issues, got a little heated at times, but it was all issue focused. As soon as the debate was over… I walked over to where he was at the microphone and I shook his hand and patted him on the back, and said ‘that was a really good debate, Sandy. You got me on a couple points, but I think I got you on this point,’ and we laughed.
“People in my district who happened to see this on CSPAN, who were very partisan from the right—my own party—got upset, they lit up social media… My staff said, ‘What happened? What did you do on the floor?’ I said, ‘What are you talking about? I just shook hands with the guy I was debating with,’ and now I’m getting all these hostile calls. We have no space. There’s no space to have a debate, an honest conversation to deal with policy issues. It’s all zero sum.”
Former Rep. Charles Boustany Jr., October 24, 2019
While Rep. Boustany may have been referring to figurative “space”, this sentiment applies to physical limitations as well. Currently, there are no areas in the U.S. Capitol Complex where Members can gather to privately collaborate or socialize. Often, the only opportunity Members must discuss policies in private is with their own party caucuses, or in their own party’s cloak room. Bipartisan discussions cannot occur there.
The Committee recommends establishing a dedicated space in the U.S. Capitol for private, bipartisan discussions. The space should be easily accessible, preferably close to the House floor, and open only to Members from both parties. Something as simple as private space would facilitate much-needed collaboration with colleagues across the aisle. Civility will not grow if Members do not even have the opportunity to socialize with one another and develop bipartisan working relationships.