Columns

Lawmaker Asks Constituents to Help ‘Dial Back’ Vitriol in Discourse

Royal visit to Scotland. Queen Elizabeth II speaks with Chairman at National Galleries of Scotland Ben Thomson during a visit to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh. Picture date: Monday July 2, 2012. (Andrew Milligan/PA Wire)

WASHINGTON – Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-Calif.), co-president of the freshman class of the 115th Congress, recommended that Congress and the general public learn how to “disagree better” in political discourse but said the media often does not cover the acts of civility between House members.

“The bottom line is, we need to learn to disagree better. This is about making sure we respect each other and serve as role models,” Barragán said during a press conference Wednesday at which freshman members of Congress signed a “Commitment to Civility,” written by Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.).

“I’m committed to recommitting to civility and I have to tell you, these guys show up and ladies show up, we give each other hugs. We talk to each other. It was kind of like what you saw on the ball field the other night [at the Congressional Baseball Game] but we do that every day in the House. The media doesn’t cover it. They don’t pan to that, but we do that. And some of my very close friends are my Republican colleagues and I am proud of that, and when I go to my district, I talk about that and I think we need to continue to do that,” she added.

Barragán said Congress must continue showing the public “that we are united, that we can disagree but we just have to learn to disagree better – in a civil way.”

The commitment reads, “We are dedicated to showing proper respect to one another and all others, encouraging productive dialogue and modeling civility in our public and private actions. While we may vehemently disagree on matters of law and policy, we will strive at all times to maintain collegiality and the honor of our office.”

Barragán, Johnson and Rep. Charlie Christ (D-Fla.) introduced legislation on Thursday that would make July 12 a “National Day of Civility.” The bill also “encourages a national campaign to promote civility in our schools, at work, and in our public spaces.”

Johnson explained why he decided to write the pledge back in January, and said Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) “loved the idea.” Scalise was shot June 14 during a GOP congressional baseball practice and is recovering in a D.C. hospital.

“We wanted to change the tone in Washington and we lamented that there’s this sort of vitriol in the culture and it’s been fueled really too often by vitriol in our politics and our public discourse, so we mutually committed together and amongst one another that we would do that differently, that we would try to raise the level of public discourse in this country, not only to change the tone in Washington, but to set an example for the generations of Americans that will follow us. Our mutual intent was to do what’s right by the American people regardless of party,” Johnson said at the press conference.

“All of us can stand on our core principles and core philosophies. I’m one of the most conservative members of Congress but I know that when someone is arguing another point of view on a measure or a bill or another agenda item that they’re an American, too. They’re my fellow American. They’re my colleague and my brother or sister in that we regard, so we need to treat one another in that way and set the example,” he added.

Rep. Donald McEachin (D-Va.), co-president of the freshman class of the 115th Congress, said the Virginia congressional delegation is one of the few delegations that meet together on a monthly basis to “see how each other is doing” and discuss issues.

“It’s because we’ve been able to enter into a relationship with one another that I was able to take the stage with Rep. Dave Brat, a person I couldn’t disagree with more, but we were able to have a civil discourse,” he said. “I was absolutely shocked and stunned when I saw the television coverage of the shooting. I actually began to cry because I could just imagine the horror and the terror those folks were going through on that baseball field.”

McEachin said he has been “called Satan” and Rep. Tom Garrett (R-Va.) has been “threatened with his life.”

“Whether they voted for us or not, sometimes our constituents need to help us dial it back. There’s no reason to threaten Tom Garrett or his family and there’s no reason to call me Satan,” McEachin said. “As we go forward with this discussion, I hope you and the media will expand it beyond Congress but also to our constituents who we work for.”

Rep. Jack Bergman (R-Mich.) and Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.), co-presidents of the freshman class, signed the commitment.