Louisiana Republican Mike Johnson, right out of the gate of his first term in Congress, decided to set civility in stone.
“If the nation’s leaders can’t model civility, then it’s pretty hopeless for the rest of the country,” he said.
The freshman class agreed with him during a closed-door meeting at their beginning -of-the-year retreat.
“We just went around a U-shaped table, and everyone shared their parting reflections on the weekend and the start of this new Congress,” he said. “Every single person said basically the same thing: That they were sick of the tone in Washington, that they were inspired to run for office to do things differently.”
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He added, “I left there thinking … ‘I’m a realist, I’m a lawyer, maybe I’m jaded a little bit. When we get back to the Capitol and in the next few weeks, this is just going to degrade with all the crazy debates.’”
Johnson drafted a one-page summary of the principles that the class discussed and called it the “Commitment to Civility.”
“I sort of sheepishly presented it to all my freshman colleagues,” he said. “It sounds good when we’re in the room together, but would you be willing to sign your name to this as a commitment that you’ll make that you’ll act with respect, show dignity to others? That even when we disagree, we can do it in an agreeable manner?”
Nearly the whole class signed on immediately. After Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana was shot at a Republican baseball practice in June, Johnson opened up the pledge Congress-wide. It now has 120 signatories.
Johnson also said he’s creating a civility caucus to make the effort part of an ongoing conversation.
“We have a responsibility as leaders to get together and work out our positions and our policies and do it in an agreeable manner. Even when we disagree, we can still be statesmanlike,” Johnson said.
Freshmen have taken the pledge seriously. Over the last year, many of them told HOH how important it is to them. So HOH followed up, asking for examples of times they’ve followed it in their day-to-day legislating lives.
They pointed to bipartisan bills, caucuses, friends at the gym and goodnight wishes in the hallways among those who sleep in their offices.
None of those interviewed had any problem naming members across the aisle they consider to be friends:
Rep. Jason Lewis, R-Minn.: “Bobby [Scott] because I got the chance to work with him on bills.”
Rep. Dwight Evans, D-Pa.: “Brian [Fitzpatrick] from Bucks County. The other congressman I work with is [Glenn] Thompson.”
Rep. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev.: “I was happy to put one of my first bills with Brian Fitzpatrick. Elise Stefanik, we did Code Like a Girl. Jack Bergman’s my hall mate across the way. His nickname was Jacky when he was a kid, so we have the Jacky hallway there.”
Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla.: “On Small Business, I’ve worked a lot with Steve Knight; on prevention of crime and treating opioids, Brian Fitzpatrick; child care, independent care tax credits with Kevin Yoder.”
Rep. Lou Correa, D-Calif.: “I hang out with a lot of guys at the gym, Ds and Rs. I’m in the prayer group, and those are Ds and Rs. And my neighbors — I sleep in my office — my neighbors are Rs.”
Rep. Roger Marshall, R-Kan.: “Lisa [Blunt] Rochester sits next to me on the House Ag Committee. [Jimmy] Panetta would be another close friend on the Democrat side.”
Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Fla.: “Brian [Fitzpatrick].”
Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa.: “It’s impossible [to name one].”
Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb.: “I’ve enjoyed Jimmy Panetta. Congressman [Salud] Carbajal, also from California. Two of the Democrats I’ve worked a lot with on various bills. In fact, we talked about visiting each other’s districts.”
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla.: “Darren Soto. He and I served together in the state Legislature. Even outside of politics, he’s a very good friend of mine, someone I admire, someone whose ideas I don’t always agree with but whose commitment to public service I deeply admire.”