Bipartisan cooperation seems hard to come by in Congress these days, but could a “baby step” have been made this week when Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) hosted a gathering of past and present black senators at the Capitol?
Former ambassador and Illinois senator Carol Moseley Braun used that term to describe her hopes for the moderated discussion held in honor of Black History Month. Scott, a Tea Party-backed Republican who notably has declined to join the Democrat-dominated Congressional Black Caucus, joked that he was “afraid” to be in the presence of so many from across the aisle but said his goal was to “take a look at the history of our country and celebrate the success in a nonpartisan way.”
Moseley Braun, who was the first and only black woman elected to the Senate, suggested a loftier goal. “To have the kind of gridlock and stand-off and partisanship that I’ve seen, as an observer from the outside, just does a great disservice to our country,” she observed, but noted, “Just as African Americans have taken the leadership throughout history on so many issues, this is another step that we can take in the direction of suggesting to our colleagues that it’s time to focus in on how we move our country forward.”
Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and former senators Roland Burris (D-Ill.) and William “Mo” Cowan (D-Mass.) rounded out the panel, with U.S. Senate Chaplain Barry Black posing the questions.
Black senators have been few and far in between, and none had served together until 2013. Scott and Cowan served together during Cowan’s 5-month term. Since Booker’s election in October, he and Scott have served together.
When asked what their biggest challenges are, Booker, whose presidential aspirations have been the subject of widespread speculation over the years and has, perhaps, the highest media profile of those on the panel, said, “We have awful streams that run through American culture …of narcissism, ‘me-ism,’ materialism that will serve to distract you about what is important.” He said he strives to remained focus on his goals of public service despite them.
Burris, who replaced Barack Obama in the Senate when the latter was elected president in 2008, stressed the importance of being a role model. Cowan, who filled John Kerry’s seat in 2013 when Kerry became Secretary of State, held forth on the value of learning from one’s setbacks.
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