It was a moment that summed up why everyone feels so hopeless about Washington.
Before his State of the Union address earlier this month, President Donald Trump refused to shake the hand of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. After the speech was over, she tore up a copy of his speech.
Hate doesn't seem too strong a word to describe how many Democrats and Republicans feel toward one another in Washington, and across America.
That's why so many stories you read say there is nothing the parties can agree on, and nothing to be done except for Democrats and Republicans to attack one another until the November election.
But there is another — more hopeful — story being written in Washington.
Just 12 hours after Donald Trump and Nancy Pelosi's showdown, several dozen House and Senate members — from both parties — sat down in a room underneath the Capitol to discuss where they could find common ground in the months ahead.
They talked about a bill to permanently end government shutdowns, to provide more funding for child care, and to bring down the cost of prescription drugs.
Most of the members in the room were part of a group called the House Problem Solvers Caucus, which has 50 members, evenly divided between the parties, working to find some way to get to “yes” when so many others in Washington are stuck on no.
In recent months, these members have been meeting with senators in meetings organized by No Labels, a ten-year-old movement I am a part of that has been working to bridge America's partisan divide. I talked about our work last Thursday at a Future of Democracy event hosted by YPO Gold Chicago, an organization dedicated to sustaining and enriching idea exchange.
You may not have heard of No Labels or the Problem Solvers, but we are building a different kind of resistance; one that rejects the ugly tribalism and aims to do the hardest thing anyone in politics can do these days: Reach across the aisle to find common ground with the other party.
And it's working. In just the last year, the Problem Solvers played a key role in pushing forward bipartisan criminal justice reform and the new USMCA trade deal. They helped moved critical legislation to get humanitarian aid to the southern border, to extend benefits for victims of 9/11 and end a double tax on military widows. And when several of the Problem Solver's bipartisan ideas on health care, immigration and infrastructure got shot down by leadership in the last Congress, they held up the vote for House speaker until they got rule reforms that are making it easier for bipartisan bills to get a vote in this Congress.
Some cynics and critics say No Labels and the Problem Solvers are tilting at windmills. They say the parties are hopelessly divided and anyone who doesn't understand this is naïve or worse.
At No Labels, we understand there are significant policy differences between Democrats and Republicans that can't be papered over by nice words about civility and bipartisanship. But we also know America's checks-and-balances system of government enables no party to run roughshod over the other and enact an agenda on its own. Although the most strident partisans on both sides seem to hold out hope they'll eventually be king or queen for a day — amassing enough power to get everything they want — U.S. history tells quite a different story.
Bipartisan cooperation is typically the only way to make out government function and to pass laws that stand the test of time, be it the passage of the Civil Rights bills and Medicare in the 1960s, tax reform and legislation to save Social Security in the 1980s or the balanced budget deals of the 1990s. Poll after poll shows the American public prefers leaders who work to seek common ground.
Right now, there are countless reform groups working to “fix” our broken democracy. Some say campaign finance reform is the silver bullet. Or that America needs a third party, or redistricting reform to end gerrymandering or ranked choice voting. Some of these reform ideas have merit. Others might actually make the problems they purport to solve — like the growing influence of the extremes in our politics — worse. But all of these reform efforts are undoubtedly multiyear even multi-decade slogs, that need to be litigated in state legislatures, the courts or Congress.
No Labels — in working to build a durable bipartisan bloc of leaders in the House and the Senate — has developed an approach that is already working. Now, we just need more people get behind us.
I'm looking at you, Chicago.
Ryan Clancy is chief strategist for No Labels, www.nolabels.org, a Washington-based coalition devoted to political problem solving based on bipartisan cooperation.