I'm a Dem's Chief of Staff and Live With GOP Leadership Staffers. Bipartisanship Is All Around Us | Opinion

The U.S. reached its debt limit this month, sparking predictions for a coming showdown between Democrats and Republicans. In order to overcome the resistance of hardline Republicans to become Speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy agreed to tie raising the debt ceiling to budget cuts, setting him up for a big fight with the Biden administration and House Democrats.

Yet despite this potential confrontation, the 118th Congress has the potential to be our most bipartisan yet.

I can say this with confidence because in the past, Speaker McCarthy himself crossed the aisle to work with my boss, Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna, on legislation called the Vet Tec Act. The legislation became law and is now providing veterans with funds to take online STEM classes. And McCarthy is not the only Republican we've worked with to pass meaningful legislation.

The first bill Rep. Khanna passed was the result of fostering personal relationships with Republicans. In 2017, I spent a week in Asia on a Congressional Staff Delegation to meet with top political and business leaders. I spent a lot of time with a staffer to Senator Tom Cotton, and as we waited in the long airport security line on our way home, he asked me what I was working on. I told him about our bill to help make it easier for veterans to obtain apprenticeships.

Within a week, Senator Cotton had introduced the Senate version of Rep. Khanna's VALOR Act. By the end of the year, President Trump signed it into law.

This was just one of six bills that Rep. Khanna passed into law in his first three terms. All of them were bipartisan and succeeded because of the strong, genuine relationships forged across the aisle.

Rep. Khanna's 21st Century IDEA legislation, which became law in 2018, requires the government to transition to electronic signatures, digital forms, and mobile friendly websites, moving government into the 21st century. Key to its success was that prior to becoming a Member of Congress, Rep. Khanna knew Senator Rob Portman, a Republican. And I had developed a meaningful relationship with one of Senator Portman's staffers over a shared love of reading about American history and attending church together.

The personal aspect is key in maintaining bipartisanship. Despite working for Rep. Khanna, I live with two Republican leadership staffers. Although my housemates and I disagree on most policies, we don't let that get in the way of playing sports or eating Chinese hot pot together.

While this may sound shocking, bipartisan relationships were once not that uncommon in Washington. Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill or Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia were the epitome of bipartisan friendships, though it was routine for much less august personalities in Washington, too.

Kevin McCarthy hugs Hakeen Jeffries
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 06: U.S. Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) hugs House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) after McCarthy was elected Speaker in the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol Building on January 07, 2023. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

This unfortunately began to change under Newt Gingrich in the early 90s, and party allegiance on both sides has only gotten worse since then.

It's a given that these next two years in the House will be marred by nasty politics and partisan rancor. But we've got to recommit to that earlier model if we want to deliver for the American people. Rep. Khanna has found a way to do it with his many partners across the aisle, but we need to make it the norm, not an aberration.

Let's abandon the political theater that makes Americans disgusted with politics and prevents us from delivering for them. Fostering relationships across the aisle and finding areas of agreement is essential if we're going to avoid absolute gridlock in the 118th Congress.

For example, Democrats who care about accountability in government should support Republicans' calls for term limits for Members of Congress, while Republicans should support measures offered by Democrats calling for term limits for Supreme Court Justices.

Democrats who care about helping ordinary Americans build wealth and move up the economic ladder should make it easier for Americans to become accredited investors based on knowledge, not net worth, while Republicans who extol the importance of family should be more open to supporting the child tax credit and parental leave.

And Democrats who care about privacy, democracy, and human rights should be more concerned with TikTok and the threat that the Chinese Communist Party poses, and they should be open to providing Taiwan with defensive arms to protect itself. Meanwhile, Republicans who care about technological competitiveness with China, reducing the risk of war with China, and keeping everyone in this country safe, should support more federal funding for science and technology, strongly affirm the One China Policy, and avoid using anti-Asian rhetoric.

These are the types of issues on which we can collaborate on if we focus on our shared values. Searching for common ground can help members of both parties stop the divisiveness and work together during this Congress for the American people.

Doing so doesn't require signing a lease with the Republican colleague from down the hall (though I do recommend it). It just requires that instead of always seeing someone as just a Republican or Democrat and assuming the worst, challenging ourselves to find something we have in common as Americans.

We all share a common humanity and citizenship that bind us together. In this age of social media which can foster distrust and disagreement at a distance, we need to rehumanize Washington to find ways to pass meaningful, bipartisan legislation during this new era of divided government.

Geo Saba is the chief of staff of California Congressman Ro Khanna.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.