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Is there hope for bipartisanship when political extremism dominates?


Is there hope for bipartisanship when political extremism dominates?

Mar 20, 2024 | 8:04 am ET
By Katie McKellar
Is there hope for bipartisanship when political extremism dominates?
Reps. Blake Moore, a Utah Republican, and Jimmy Panetta, a California Democrat, participate in a panel hosted by the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics in Salt Lake City on March 19, 2024. (Courtesy of Hinckley Institute of Politics).

While partisan fights and gridlock capture the majority of attention in Washington, D.C., two congressmen from opposite sides of the political aisle told a room full of college students Monday night to look beyond that “echo chamber” — and that it’s possible to succeed in Congress without extremism. 

Reps. Blake Moore, a Utah Republican, and Jimmy Panetta, a California Democrat, sat down for a panel titled “Bipartisanship and Exchange” hosted by the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics. Both congressmen are participating in the American Congressional Exchange (ACE), a program that emphasizes the importance of personal interaction outside of the negotiating rooms of the Capitol.

During the discussion moderated by Jason Perry, the institute’s director, Moore and Panetta acknowledged they tend to vote on opposite sides of the aisle from each other. But both said the key to bipartisanship is explaining their votes to one another — and understanding each other’s opposition — while also looking for where common ground can be found. 

For example, they pointed to a bipartisan tax bill (which would expand the child tax credit and reinstate a set of business tax breaks) that the House approved in January by a vote of 357 to 70. That bill, however, has stalled in the Senate with Republicans thumbing their noses at the legislation they argue is too generous to low-income families, The New York Times reported.

“Is what it is. We got it done. Now it’s up to the Senate,” Moore said, acknowledging that the tax bill is hitting some political “roadblocks” in that body. He urged students to call their senators and tell them to stop playing politics. 

Why is a Democrat touring red Utah?

The panel capped off a day Moore and Panetta spent together while visiting Utah this week as part of a trip hosted by the Bipartisan Policy Center. Earlier Monday, the two congressmen spent an afternoon whizzing about on airboats across the Great Salt Lake — an iconic Utah landmark that’s now under serious environmental and ecological threat due to the state’s growth and the West’s historic drought. 

Bipartisanship on Great Salt Lake: Utah Rep. Moore, California Rep. Panetta talk water conservation

Panetta visited Utah to tour Moore’s district, including a stop at Hill Air Force Base, a meeting at Lifetime Products in Clearfield, a tour of Compass Minerals, which operates on the Great Salt Lake, and an airboat ride through Willard Bay. The goal of the trip, they said, was to build personal relationships and build common ground even among people whose politics you generally disagree with. 

A handful of students asked the congressmen how to achieve bipartisanship when today’s political landscape seems so dominated by extremism. 

“It often feels like bipartisanship and diplomacy has been on the backburner in favor of party loyalty or extremist sentiments, both within political institutions and among constituents,” one student said, asking Moore and Panetta if they’ve seen this dynamic change or evolve during their time in office. 

In his answer, Moore pointed to his third day as a congressman, which was on Jan. 6, 2021, the day the U.S. Capitol was attacked by supporters of former President Donald Trump. 

“I took a lot of heat for not going down that narrative road,” he said, noting he voted to certify the election and in favor of the bipartisan bill to create a commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack. “It was tough, but I’ve earned people’s trust over time.” 

Moore said he’s stood behind his votes, even if they might be more controversial, and won support by simply explaining his reasoning. 

“They may not like it,” he said. “But they’ll respect it.” 

‘Do your damn job’

To Panetta, the answer is simple: “You do your damn job.” Noting he took office in 2017, “I had four years of President Trump. Whatever your politics are, you’ve got to admit it was a freaking chaotic presidency.” 

Panetta said his blue California district was “going crazy. Hair was on fire. What do you do? What I realized is that a lot of times it’s easy to get distracted. If you got spun up on every political thing that was said or done, you wouldn’t have time (to do your job.)”

Congress members’ “underlying job” is to legislate, he said, “and you can always fall back on that. … show that you’re getting stuff done.” 

“Despite the craziness you may see on TV, you’ve got to make sure that your legislators are doing their job and serving their district and getting stuff done in Washington, D.C.,” he said. 

Another student, who called himself a Utah state delegate and a registered Republican, said it’s been “frustrating” going to conventions to vet candidates. “Unfortunately a lot of them rely on that fringe rhetoric,” he said, questioning how candidates who don’t rely on that strategy can “keep getting elected.” 

“Good governance is good politics,” Panetta said. “Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.” 

Panetta said “the underlying issue” in Washington, D.C. is that “people don’t have a sense of what it means to be a public servant.” Rather than running a campaign “based on what they’ve seen on TV or what they read on social media,” he said people need to know “public service is a grind — it’s a grind because serving people and making government work for people is hard work.” 

“People always ask me, ‘How do you work with Marjorie Taylor Green or AOC (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez)? I don’t,” Panetta said. “I’m going to find people like Blake Moore. We’re on the same level. We want to get stuff done.” 

Panetta said when people wonder why extreme politicians are elected, “Don’t ask them. Ask their constituency. What’s going on with their constituency where they want people (in Congress) to yell and scream and blow things up rather than (someone) that can actually legislate and get stuff done.” 

Panetta said the question comes down to whether some people have a flawed understanding of what public service actually means. 

“What is a constituency’s understanding of what public service means to them?” he said “Someone who yells and screams or gets on TV, or someone who actually rolls up their sleeves and legislates as their jobs?”