06.29.21

vKilmer Leads Series of Hearings to Examine How to Improve Civility & Collaboration in Congress

Last Thursday, U.S. Representative Derek Kilmer (WA-06) led the second of a two-part series of hearings in the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress (“Select Committee”) aimed at examining how to improve civility and collaboration in Congress in order to make the institution work better for the American people.

During Thursday’s hearing, titled “Rethinking Congressional Culture: Lessons from the Fields of Organizational Psychology and Conflict Resolution,” members heard from experts in organizational psychology, cultural change, and conflict resolution who shared examples from their field and “out of the box” ways to help bridge the partisan divide in Congress.

“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,” said Rep. Kilmer during Thursday’s hearing. “But all of this is to say, we are not dealing with broken rules and procedures – we are dealing with broken norms.”

“Improving civility and cooperation is some of the most important work that this Committee has undertaken, and successfully addressing it would allow us to vastly improve this dysfunctional institution,” said Rep. William Timmons (SC-04), who serves as the Committee Vice Chair“Right now, the loudest voice is the one that is heard, but the loudest voice is never going to be the one that solves the problem. That is why we need to find a way to incentivize collaboration and policy making once again.”

Expert witnesses included Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist and leading professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania; William Doherty, co-founder of Braver Angels and the creator of the Braver Angels workshop approach to bridging political divides; Amanda Ripley, an investigative journalist and the author or High Conflict: Why We Get Trapped and How We Get Out; and Kris Miler, an associate professor in the Department of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland who focuses on cooperation and conflict in the U.S. House through the lens of organizational psychology.

In the first hearing, on June 17, titled “Building a More Civil and Collaborative Culture in Congress,” the Select Committee worked to better understand the various factors and societal trends that have contributed to the high levels of polarization in Congress.

The members heard from Yuval Levin, the Director of Social, Cultural, and Constitutional Studies at the American Enterprise Institute and Molly Reynolds, a Senior Fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institute and discussed methods to foster civility and bipartisanship.

“This is the first organization in which I’ve worked in that does not have a widely embraced mission or set of goals. Congress often feels like 435 independent contractors that appear to be in a high stakes competition for market share. The incentives are often not to build and fix the institution but rather to bash it,” said Rep. Kilmer. “Much of what vexes the institution is not failures in rules and procedures but the breakdown of norms and a rather toxic culture.”

“Making Congress more civil and more collaborative is one of the most important things that this Committee can do to ensure we are better serving the American people,” said Rep. Timmons. “Finding opportunities to spend more time with our colleagues and engage in substantial, policy-based conversations will play an essential role in improving this institution.”

In both hearings, the Select Committee employed newly adopted rules and conducted the hearing in a roundtable format. The members all sat around a conference table with the witnesses to encourage thoughtful discussion and engagement.

“Instead of generating interesting debate and good ideas, hearings too often promote political posturing and sound bites for social media,” said Rep. Kilmer in announcing the new format during the first hearing. “So, the Select Committee is trying something different today with how we structure this hearing. Our goal is to 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.”

 


Source: The Surburban Times