Chinese food, of all things, is helping to bridge the partisan congressional divide over the war in Iraq.
A dozen or so Democrats and Republicans huddled for dinner Monday night in the second-floor dining room of Hunan Dynasty on Capitol Hill to chart a four-point plan that would help the lawmakers present voters with some bipartisan agreements to resolve the war.
The meal was just one in a string of recent gatherings by moderate members of both parties who have increasingly rallied together to temper the highly partisan debate over the war. And this drive for political cover has forced leaders in both parties to reach out to their moderate members to hold the political middle.
Party leaders are also reaching across the aisle to enlist opposition lawmakers to help them upset the balance to gain an advantage in what has become a protracted debate.
Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and his chief deputy, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), met with nine moderate Republicans on Monday evening to hear their impressions about last week’s progress report by the top two U.S. officials in Iraq.
“It was a good meeting,” Blunt said Tuesday. “What our members are saying is that they would like a little more help” selling positive aspects of the war in the face of negative ads that outside groups are running in moderate districts.
Later that night, some of those same moderate Republicans gathered with other members to plot a path forward for members in the middle.
The group at Hunan Dynasty hashed out a three-and-a-half-point plan that includes a bipartisan series of floor speeches discussing points of agreement about Iraq, bipartisan town hall meetings in each others’ districts to debate the war and an official statement of principles to help guide the debate for members in the middle.
Reps. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) and Wayne Gilchrest (R-Md.) will organize the special order speeches. Reps. Bud Cramer (D-Ala.) and Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.) will organize the town hall meetings. And Reps. John Tanner (D-Tenn.) and Mike Castle (R-Del.) will craft the statement of principles.
Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) is also researching the War Powers Act to help Congress reassert some of the jurisdiction over the military it ceded to the White House early in the debate.
“In the long run, I don’t believe it’s helpful to the Congress or our caucus to project to the American people an inability to forge consensus,” Israel said.
“This is less about a substitute legislative solution than it is about educating the American people that Democrats and Republicans don’t spend all our time knocking chairs over each others’ heads,” he said. “The longer Iraq goes on and the more divided Congress becomes, the stronger we get.”