Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker has stepped forward several times this year as a bridge for bipartisanship when congressional gridlock began to claim more and more headlines.
Corker, a Republican who has been photographed playing golf with President Barack Obama, and who, as a freshman senator played a big role in shaping reform of financial institutions, seems to understand that governing and leadership requires listening, not just talking, to get things done.
Oddly, the fact that he has been listening and talking — not just talking — gives him a different perspective on Washington gridlock.
In a conversation Tuesday with Chattanooga Times Free Press editors and reporters, Corker said his conversations with Chattanoogans surprised him when he got home on Friday.
“It’s interesting, people say, ‘Gosh all-mighty, I’ve never seen so much dysfunction [in Washington].’”
But Corker doesn’t see it that way. “For the first time, I see us functioning,” he said.
He explained that during his first three years in the Senate, the country’s financial institutions were in meltdown, and he spent lots of time working on that. But the last two and a half years, following the passage of the financial reform bill and the Affordable Care Act, “were like watching paint dry. … There was such acrimony, nothing happened. …”
Now, he says, there are a lot of discussions, on both sides of the aisle. “And multiple, daily cellphones [calls], 12:30 at night, early in the morning… The cellphones are buzzing because we’re finding solutions.”
But that’s the Senate, for the most part. The House is another story. And while Corker may have been busy these past years smoothing wrinkles and “calling 12 people” who signed a letter he terms “a silly effort” to bind any possible grand bargain to defunding Obamacare, the rest of America sees stagnation.
We see a Congress that is by and large just a vitriolic, obstructionist, broken body.
Pundits all across the nation have pointed to a Republican Party, especially marked by its members in the House, that is in the midst of a very uncivil civil war as far-right tea party members try to hijack the mainstream Republican leadership.
Corker visibly bristles at the characterization of a Republican Party caught in a civil war.
The Senate has passed things, Times Free Press reporter Andy Sher reminded Corker during his visit. “But what has Congress passed collectively?”
The senator switched to future-speak.
“If I had a dollar to bet, I would bet on the side of immigration reform occurring. And if I had a dollar to bet, I’d bet on the side of [Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mortgage funders] GSE reform occurring. And if I had a dollar to bet — I’d put a chip on the table and decide later where I was going to put it — but there’s no question that the fiscal solution has to emanate from the Senate.”
You’ll notice that he didn’t really answer the civil war question.
But he did add that he thinks the House GOP conservatives-vs-main-streamers problem is why the White House has spent so much time with senators.
The question is “how we end up socializing that,” Corker said.
And this year’s in-House bickering may be just the war’s opening salvos.