Jun 12, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Sanders-Graham debate tests waters for a Senate reset

Photograph of a full-sized replica of the U.S. Senate at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute
Full-sized replica of the U.S. Senate chamber at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute. Photo courtesy of Edward M. Kennedy Institute

On Monday at noon, as the Jan. 6 committee wraps its second public hearing, two U.S. senators on opposite ends of the spectrum — Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) — will meet in Boston in a life-sized replica of the Senate chambers for an unlikely experiment in saving the art of political compromise.

Driving the news: Graham and Sanders are participating in the inaugural debate of The Senate Project™ launched by the Bipartisan Policy Center, the Orrin G. Hatch Foundation and the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate.

  • The topic for the one-hour Oxford-style policy debate: The state of the economy.
  • The debate will be moderated by Fox News' Bret Baier and streamed on Fox Nation. It will be re-aired on Saturday on Fox News Channel.
  • Other senators will be drafted for future debates. A second is scheduled in Washington next month, with a third in Utah this fall.

How we got here: At a low point in American democracy, with a gridlocked 50-50 Senate and rising calls to end the filibuster, organizers are seeking to "reintroduce the culture of seeking common ground and consensus that has been the essence of the Senate since it was conceived in 1789," they said in a statement announcing the initiative.

  • They cite the example of the two late senators — Kennedy, a Democrat from Massachusetts, and Hatch, a Republican from Utah — who forged a personal and professional bond to broker major legislative compromises.

What they're saying: "Our legislative process may never have been as dysfunctional as it is now. ... I hardly recognize the Senate as the same body where I was 15 years ago," Tom Daschle, a Democrat and the former Senate majority leader from South Dakota, told Axios.

  • Daschle is a co-founder of the Bipartisan Policy Center and a board member of the Kennedy Institute.
  • "Compromise is the oxygen of democracy, and I believe that the legislative process is suffocating because there is so little compromise. We're not accomplishing what democracy has been charged to do in this country, and I worry about what it may mean for the future."
  • He said the increasing inability to set partisanship aside for the greater good on key issues plays "right into the hands of" China's President Xi Jinping, Russia's Putin and the argument that today's democracies can't be as effective as autocracies.

The bottom line: Daschle said if Sanders and Graham can find a starting point for compromise, others may follow.

  • "We see this as an incremental thing. We don't think one debate is going to change much."
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