'We're not that different': Exchange program helps build bipartisanship among lawmakers

Craig and Peter Meijer.jpg
Posted at 5:33 PM, Oct 18, 2021

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — On a trip that brought her through Steelcase, Herbrucks and then Robinette’s, Congresswoman Angie Craig, D-Minnesota, wasn’t at home, but West Michigan certainly felt familiar.

“We're not that different,” Craig said. “I know we talk about our differences across this country, but I've been here today and I've already heard a number of concerns about supply chain issues about workforce issues. It's the same concerns in my congressional district."

That realization just one of the main takeaways during her tour of Michigan’s 3rd Congressional District, alongside Republican colleague Rep. Peter Meijer, R-Grand Rapids.

The two spent time together in their respective districts as part of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Congressional Exchange Program.

Meijer visited Minnesota's 2nd Congressional district in August.

You get to compare and contrast, you get to find similarities, see ways that communities approach similar problems in different ways but also get to understand that interlay,” said Meijer of the program. “I think as federal officials that makes us more effective at our jobs, because we're not just going from our own experience, but able to leverage that of others as well.”

Sometimes it takes getting out of the nation's capital and heading to an apple orchard, brewery or egg farm to build effective working relationships, which can help to break partisan gridlock.

I think we're better legislators when we're 1000 miles away from Washington every single time because the truth is my leadership, Republican leadership, they don't really want us to get to know each other, to become friends to work together, they'd rather keep us politically divided, at least mine would,” Craig said.

“I think the time we spend together, we look for opportunities to work together in the future and I think that's really important for us to get back to that in this country,” Craig explained.

The program, which began in 2018 has shown some real results, according to organizers. They hope to expand it and garner more interest over the coming years.

“The most rewarding part of it is that we're finding that members come back from these trips, and they actually, believe it or not, start working together, then their staffs start working together,” said Jonathan Perman, the co-director of the program. “They'll co-sponsor bills with one another, they will arrange to work on legislative activities together, they will collaborate on a particular legislative initiative. And so we're finding that that that's really happening.

Both lawmakers are heading back to the Capitol for votes on Tuesday.

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