Congress has put on a magnificent bipartisan show this past week, much of which should be recognized and emulated by Republicans, Democrats and the president. Here’s how Utah Sen. Mike Lee applied it.
On Tuesday evening, the Senate passed “The First Step Act,” truly the first significant reform to the United States criminal justice system in a generation. Holly Harris, executive director of Justice Action Network, commented to Politico, “Today was a resounding win for second chances, bipartisanship, and, most importantly, for the thousands of Americans families who are burdened by our broken justice system.”
Lee has spent the better part of six years driving this bipartisan initiative by developing critical relationships with Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin, Ill., Cory Booker, N.J., and many others. He worked extensively with President Obama and President Trump. He spent hours with outside groups and White House personnel, including current presidential advisers Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. He bucked his own party when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. John Cornyn wanted to kill the bill and said publicly they didn’t have the votes to bring it to the floor.
Lee had his own whip count, based on personal relationships and private conversations, and he proved to be accurate. After a major resistance effort by a handful of GOP leaders, the bill garnered a stunning 87 votes on final passage.
Liberal CNN icon Van Jones hailed the bill as the start of a new era for criminal justice reform, saying, “You had, for the first time in more than a generation, both parties coming together to do something for people at the bottom."
Lee also led an interesting and eclectic coalition to pass a Senate resolution to end U.S. support for Saudi Arabia in the ongoing war in Yemen just a week prior. For the first time since 1973, the Senate clawed back some its war power authority, which allows the Senate to vote for an immediate end to military activity.
In response to its passage, Sen. Bernie Sanders said, “Today we tell the despotic regime in Saudi Arabia that we will not be part of their military adventurism.”
The Senate than approved, by unanimous consent, a second resolution condemning the killing of Washington Post writer Jamal Khashoggi, laying responsibility for the atrocity on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The two resolutions were noted as stinging rebukes of the Trump administration.
This legislative model shows that bipartisan solutions to pressing problems are possible when elected officials invest in building personal relationships and function from a place of principle. It shows that immovable gridlock can be nudged out of the way with perpetual force, despite what leadership of either party might say.7 comments on this story
Most importantly, this model shows one can be on the opposite side of an issue with President Trump one day and tag-team with the president on another issue the next day.
These important successes should encourage every member of Congress, especially newly elected members, to take note. When the status quo is challenged, when principled legislation is advanced, when leadership from both parties and the White House are pushed to bring bills to the floor for debate and votes, the people’s business gets done and America moves forward. That is a model worth pursuing to transform Washington.