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Alumni in Congress discuss importance of bipartisanship at SPIA

<h5>Students sit around the Fountain of Freedom on a sunny day.</h5>
<h6>Guanyi Cao / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
Students sit around the Fountain of Freedom on a sunny day.
Guanyi Cao / The Daily Princetonian

Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi ’95 (D-Ill.) and Representative Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.) spoke at a recent lecture organized by the School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA) about the importance of bipartisanship in government. 

The talk, titled “Working Together for a Better America — A Bipartisan Dialogue Between Two US Congressmen,” was moderated by Professor of Politics and Public Affairs Charles Cameron. SPIA Dean Amaney A. Jamal introduced the panel as part of a larger effort by the School to facilitate debate from both sides of the aisle. 

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Krishnamoorthi is an Indian-born Congressman who has served as a representative for Illinois’s Eighth Congressional District, which covers the north and west suburbs of Chicago, since 2017. Thompson has represented Pennsylvania’s 15th congressional district, a rural region of the state, since 2008. He is the descendant of American dairy farmers, which, Jamal joked, motivates the Congressman’s push “for schools to serve milk with some fat.” 

The panel centered around what Cameron referred to as the “Secret Congress,” which he explained as the operations of Congress that the media does not cover. These operations primarily include the passing of bipartisan bills.

Both Krishnamoorthi and Thompson score highly in rankings by the Lugar Center, a bipartisan scoring organization. The center ranks members of Congress by how often they work to sponsor or co-sponsor bills with members of the opposite party. According to the Lugar Center’s 2021 House Scores, Krishnamoorthi ranks 97th while Thompson ranks 50th.

Both representatives discussed the bill they co-sponsored to improve technical education options: the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act. It was enacted into law in July 2018. 

The bill took over 12 years to be passed, according to both speakers. They noted the importance of bipartisan relationships in the passing of the bill. 

For example, Krishnamoorthi recounted a story that began with his wife telling him to go to the Congress gym. At the gym, Krishnamoorthi was assigned to a locker next to then-Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wi.), who at the time was the Speaker of the House of Representatives. 

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“There’s a rule that we don’t talk business,” Krishnamoorthi said. “We learned that we’re both lifelong Chicago Cubs fans.”

Krishnamoorthi’s bill was having trouble getting votes from the Republican side of the House, but after he solicited advice from Ryan the bill eventually passed with bipartisan support. 

“That all started with me going to the gym,” Krishnamoorthi said.  

Thompson expressed the importance of developing these personal relationships with members of Congress, regardless of their political party. 

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“Politics is supporting relationships,” Thompson said. “Networking and relationships. You can’t have negotiation without trust.” 

Krishnamoorthi echoed Thompson’s sentiments later in the talk.

“The way you talk about other people and talk about a subject and talk about people’s differences really matters in terms of your effectiveness,” he said.  

Both also shared their perspective that the media is less likely to cover the passing of successful bipartisan legislation. 

“Media does not like to cover handshakes,” Krishnamoorthi said. “They like to cover hand grenades.” 

On the issues of climate change and election fraud allegations, the policy differences between Thompson and Krishnamoorthi were most prominent. 

On the issue of climate change, Thompson noted that “we need to deal with climate change in a way that provides for a healthy environment and a healthy economy.” 

“I do want to say that net-zero — where we’re emitting no carbon — is a bit of a fallacy, because if you don’t have that there’s nothing for plants to make oxygen, and that’ll be a really bad situation,” he continued.

Krishnamoorthi, however, emphasized his support of the Inflation Reduction Act, a landmark piece of climate legislation that will help the United States meet its goals of being net-zero by 2050. The Representative is also the co-chair and co-founder of the Bipartisan Congressional Solar Caucus. 

When Cameron opened the floor up for questions, he challenged students to “demonstrate that it’s possible to ask tough, intelligent, but civil questions,” to which Thompson replied, “that’s a lot of criteria. You couldn’t get a member of Congress to do that.” 

A student then asked the panelists how to pursue civil discourse between Democrats and members of Congress who voted to decertify. Notably, Thompson voted against certifying Pennsylvania’s electoral votes from the 2020 election. 

“The media has made this out to be something that has dropped in from outer space. The fact is: it’s a part of the rules. It’s a part of the procedure,” Thompson said. “This is where it would have been helpful if the media emphasized the most important skill, which is listening.”

“For me, that vote was not about fraud, because unless you’re there first-hand, you can’t prove there was fraud. What you can prove, in Pennsylvania, was that the voting was not done in a constitutional manner,” he continued. 

Krishnamoorthi, who voted to certify the election across all states, imparted a different message to students in the audience.

“We did our duty and we certified a presidential election. Now we have to bind up our wounds and figure out how to work together,“ he said.  

“I’m a Princeton Tiger in the nation’s service, just like all of you, and what I would ask all of you is probably the number one issue I see that stands between our country advancing and stagnating is knitting back the social fabric of this country so we can work together on common challenges confronting us.” 

The event took place at noon on Nov. 29 in Robertson Hall 016. 

Kalena Blake is an associate news editor for the ‘Prince.’ Please direct any corrections requests to corrections[at]dailyprincetonian.com.

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