U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer (WA-06), far right, who chairs the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress, led the second of a two-part series of hearings aimed at examining how to improve civility and collaboration in Congress in order to make the institution work better. (Rep. Kilmer’s office photo)

U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer (WA-06), far right, who chairs the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress, led the second of a two-part series of hearings aimed at examining how to improve civility and collaboration in Congress in order to make the institution work better. (Rep. Kilmer’s office photo)

Is hyperpartisanship in Congress a permanent thing?

Kilmer and House Select Committee hope not

If you’re thinking Congress is either broken or operating less effectively because of rampant partisanship, you’re not alone.

On June 24, U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer (WA-06), who chairs the committee, led the second of a two-part series of hearings by the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress aimed at examining how to improve civility and collaboration in Congress in order to make the institution work better.

During the two meetings, members of the select committee heard from experts in organizational psychology, cultural change and conflict resolution who shared examples from their field and offered “out-of-the-box” ways to help bridge the partisan divide in Congress, Kilmer’s office said.

“Over the past several months, I have been grappling with the question: How do I effectively chair a bipartisan committee in an environment that incentivizes partisanship? A lot of what happens in Congress currently doesn’t feel very constructive,” Kilmer said during the hearing.

“But all of this is to say, we are not dealing with broken rules and procedures — we are dealing with broken norms.”

During the first hearing on June 17, the select committee worked to better understand the factors and societal trends contributing to polarization in Congress.

In both hearings, the select committee employed newly adopted rules and conducted the hearing in a roundtable format. The members sat at a conference table with guest speakers to encourage thoughtful discussion and engagement, said Andrew Wright, Kilmer’s director of communications.

Kilmer said Congress is the first organization he’s worked with that doesn’t have a widely shared mission or a set of goals.

“Congress often feels like 435 independent contractors that appear to be in a high-stakes competition for market share,” the congressman said. “The incentives are often not to build and fix the institution but rather to bash it. Much of what vexes the institution is not failures in rules and procedures but the breakdown of norms and a rather toxic culture.”

Kilmer said he enlisted a new format during the first hearing that he hoped would encourage “thoughtful discussion and the civil exchange of ideas and opinions. The ability to look right at each other when speaking and when listening matters.”

The select committee was tasked by the House to produce recommendations on rules to promote a more modern and efficient Congress, as well as provide updated procedures, schedules and calendars. The members said they also hope to develop the next generation of leaders through better staff recruitment, diversity, retention, compensation and benefits.

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