Civility on I-81: The #BipartisanRoadTrip

Betsy Wright Hawkings
March 16, 2017

Congressmen Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) and Will Hurd (R-TX) might not agree on every aspect of education or trade policy. But they have experienced life on the highway – together.

Faced with travel delays caused by a winter storm, Reps. O’Rourke and Hurd made the practical decision to rent a car and head north, a choice anyone who knows the two men could understand. Rep. O’Rourke, who started his own small business, and Rep. Hurd, who served in the CIA during the War on Terror, are “get the job done” kinds of guys.

Their shared work ethic and commitment to serve their Texan constituents helped them connect during their long ride back to Washington. As they cruised along Route 81, these bipartisan road trippers drank coffee, stopped for snacks, and took questions from Facebook Live viewers tuned into their trip.

They also did something even more unusual these days: They showed their constituents and an audience from around the country that Republicans and Democrats could get to know each other and even be friends.

Beto O'Rourke kicks off the road trip
Rep. Beto O’Rourke kicks off the road trip.

Long before social media (and regular flights to Peoria!) former Leader Bob Michel (R-IL), and former Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (D-IL) famously drove back and forth to Illinois together on the weekends. This time, though, online followers of the #BipartisanRoadTrip saw firsthand how so many on the Internet coalesced around the two. In this age of hyperpartisan politics, there are few Facebook Live streams that friends from across the aisle join together to watch. However, Americans from coast to coast tuned in to watch this unlikely duo make the long trek from Texas to Washington together.

As Katie Mettler reported in The Washington Post, O’Rourke and Hurd made stops for coffee and donuts along their route, pausing to talk with fellow customers, some of whom were skeptical about their newfound friendship. “You’re buddies?” an older man asked the congressmen, to which O’Rourke responded: “We’re becoming buddies.”

These unlikely buddies aren’t the only Members working to bridge partisan divides. Rep. Hurd, co-chair of the Millennial Action Project’s bipartisan Congressional Future Caucus, and Rep. O’Rourke, who has participated in the Aspen Institute Congressional Program – both of which promote efforts to connect Members of Congress with colleagues across the aisle – are just two of several recent examples.

Just two weeks ago, 28 Republican and 18 Democratic Freshman Members — representing red and blue states from coast to coast — signed a Commitment to Civility and spoke on the House floor about why they made this commitment, what their constituents had sent them to Washington to accomplish, and how civility is essential to working together across the aisle to achieve those goals. In all, 46 of the 52 new members signed the commitment, which urges productive dialogue and rejects the idea that political rivals are enemies.

And last week, the Bipartisan Policy Center hosted Republican and Democratic presidents of the House Freshmen class to discuss efforts by their class to work across the aisle to find common ground. At the event, Reps. Val Demings (D-FL) and Jack Bergman (R-MI) spoke about the class’s shared commitment sustain this effort, not not just in their first months in Washington, but as long as they are elected to serve.

Asked, “How can we help?” the Representatives responded, “Keep encouraging events like this.”

The bipartisan road trippers take Facebook Live questions.
The bipartisan road trippers take Facebook Live questions.

As road trippers Hurd and O’Rourke return to the Capitol and their caucuses with 1,900 more miles of common ground behind them, chances are each knows a whole lot more about how the other wants to do this job of “representative” – and that their constituents do, too.

Packing Members of different parties into rental cars for 24-hour drives may not be a feasible way to find common ground on every issue, but Reps. Hurd & O’Rourke are one example of how actions can bridge Washington’s hyperpartisan divide. And the more constituents encourage Members of Congress to work together, the more they will do so.

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