As a means of closing the political divide between Democrats and Republicans in Congress, a unique program is flying federal lawmakers to each others’ hometowns so they become closer friends and colleagues.
The American Congressional Exchange (ACE) flies members of Congress from across the political spectrum to the districts of opposing party members, where they spend the next 48 hours learning about each other’s personal lives and their communities. It was all started back in 2016 by public affairs consultant Jonathan Perman in order to bring bipartisanship back to Capitol Hill.
Some of the most successful pieces of legislation in history, he says, were driven by bipartisan efforts, such as the Civil Rights Act, the Social Security Act, and the Federal Highway Act.
“Forty or fifty years ago, legislators lived in Washington,” Perman told Macalester University. “They got to know each other, their spouses, their children. Now the constant pressure to raise money for reelection forces them to return to their districts nearly every weekend. They don’t get to know people from the other side of the aisle anymore.”
Originally inspired to create the project by his love of history as a political science major, he was unsure of whether legislators would actually participate—but he’s been pleasantly surprised by their reactions.
“I needed to vet the idea, so I spent the last half of 2016 meeting with former and current members of Congress, political thought leaders, and Hill staffers, all of whom encouraged me to advance the concept,” says Perman.
Perman, alongside fellow staffers at the Bipartisan Policy Center, plan the weekend trips so that the House members are able to socialize informally while still spending structured time learning about the district. ACE has successfully facilitated 7 trips between legislators this year, with three more planned in the near future. Next year, they hope to host 20 visits.
“We thought at first the congressional participants would be mostly moderates, but we were wrong,” Perman says. “We’re getting interest from across the political spectrum—that’s encouraging. If we can involve 10 to 15 percent of Congress, then we are beginning to impact how Congress works.”
(WATCH the program in action in the video below) – Photo by Bipartisan Policy Center
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