A fix for Washington: More Washington?

Three former senators, two of them former majority leaders, a former Clinton Cabinet secretary and a former governor worked a year and a half on a 120-page report explaining why U.S. politics is so polarized and Congress is so gridlocked. They came up with a host of wide-ranging recommendations to make it better.

Among them? Lawmakers need to spend more time in Washington.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

That, of course, runs counter to the prevailing sentiment that lawmakers should distance themselves from Washington as much as possible. The thinking: Don’t be seen enjoying life inside the Beltway too much, lest you get hammered for being out of touch with voters back home (Exhibit A: outgoing congressman Eric Cantor and his thousands of dollars spent at D.C. steakhouses.)

But former senators Trent Lott (R-Miss.), Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), former governor/interior secretary/senator Dirk Kempthorne (R-Idaho) and former agriculture secretary/congressman Dan Glickman (D-Kan.) remember another time in Washington, when politicians hung out socially and spouses became friendly and kids went to school together and the country’s work got done.

These days they point to the abbreviated legislative workweek and the mad dash back to their districts every weekend as a big part of the problem. The former pols say it’s impossible for current members to work together because they’re not forming personal bonds or establishing trust.

“Members do not eat together, their families do not interact, and consequently they do not get to know each other well. Under these circumstances, it is hard to imagine how members of opposing parties can find the time to make real overtures to each other on issues of shared interest,” the group wrote.

This is not the first time Lott and Daschle have made this observation. They prescribed many of the sames fixes in a Washington Post op-ed shortly after the Democrats went ahead with the “nuclear option” in November to get presidential nominees cleared.

The five co-chairs of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Commission on Political Reform, which produced the report, said there is blame to share: The Obama White House is also detached.

One of their suggestions is that President Obama should meet with members of Congress monthly and attend joint congressional caucuses twice a year.

“Of course, Congress alone cannot bridge the partisan divide in Washington,” they wrote. “The administration must also be willing to change the way it chooses to interact with Congress. Today, the communication across Pennsylvania Avenue is woefully insufficient in both scale and intensity, particularly in light of the tremendous domestic and global challenges our country faces.”

In other words, Congress and Obama should get to know each other. Maybe then they’d learn how to skewer each other, but politely.

Love nests, war chests

Considering the U.S. divorce rate, staying married for 30 years is cause for great celebration. Some spouses would want a nice dinner, a romantic getaway, a sentimental note. Others? Contributions to their political action committee.

Rep. Ilena Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and her husband, Dexter, are throwing a party next month at the Ritz-Carlton Coconut Grove in Miami to celebrate three decades of matrimony.

In lieu of gifts, their guests can send $1,000 to the IRL PAC (Ros-Lehtinen’s leadership PAC) or purchase a table for $5,000.

Because nothing says true love like political fundraising.

Of course, politicians often use special occasions — birthdays, holidays — as an excuse to solicit campaign contributions. And sometimes it’s not even their own celebrations. Remember the Obama campaign asking supporters to create gift registries for their wedding, birthday or anniversary to donate to the reelection effort?

Quote of the week

Newt Gingrich complimented Bill Clinton while undercutting Hillary Rodham Clinton, comparing one to a legendary actor and the other to a reality star famous for being famous.

Tuesday night on his CNN show, “Crossfire,” Gingrich, the former House speaker, failed presidential candidate, TV pundit, and lover of zoo animals and all things lunar, was discussing everyone’s favorite topic: Hillary Clinton, and how her husband defended her for saying they were “dead broke” when they left the White House.

But Gingrich said Hillary Clinton can’t match her husband’s political prowess. His analogy earns him the Loop Quote of the Week.

“You have to understand the problem Bill has,” Gingrich said. “Bill is to politics what Fred Astaire was to dancing, he is just automatically amazing, and he wants to have Ginger Rogers out there dancing, just as Fred Astaire did. Instead it’s a little bit like watching Kim Kardashian get kicked off the set by Prince because she couldn’t dance.”

Gingrich further patronized, suggesting the former president has watched his wife stumble and said, “Come on, honey, you can do it.”

Ginger Rogers she is not. But she looked pretty smooth when we saw her dancing in South Africa with jazz and Afro-pop singer Judith Sephuma. This is, especially after about 45 seconds, a must-see: wapo.st/hrcdance.

Embassy suites

The Senate logjam on confirming career Foreign Service officers for long-vacant ambassadorships appears to be breaking. Last week the Senate confirmed Brian A. Nichols for Peru, and on Wednesday it approved Thomas P. Kelly III for Djibouti.

On Thursday afternoon it filled two critical slots, approving Stuart Jones for Baghdad and Robert Beecroft, who had been in Baghdad, for Cairo. Cairo had been vacant since August.

In other State Department personnel news, our ambassador to China, Max Baucus, will welcome a familiar face at the embassy next week.

Scott Mulhauser, a fixture around Capitol Hill for more than a decade who served as a senior staffer for Baucus on the Senate Finance Committee, is off to China on Sunday to be Baucus’s chief of staff.

— With Colby Itkowitz

Twitter: @KamenInTheLoop, @ColbyItkowitz

Colby Itkowitz is a national reporter for In The Loop.
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