Working Across the Table in the Senate

Working Across the Table in the Senate

Vice President Joe Biden appearing on MSNBC's Morning Joe.
Vice President Joe Biden appearing on MSNBC’s Morning Joe.

Last week during the Democrat National Convention, Vice President Joe Biden appeared on Morning Joe to discuss his decision not to run as a candidate, and other issues surrounding the 2016 election.

But what caught my attention was not a dialogue about politics, but about working together. Here is that conversation by the host, Joe Scarborough (JS) and Vice President Joe Biden (JB):

JS: “It seems that from the time you were in the senate, even the time you were sworn in, that things have gone off the rail. That Democrats are having a harder time talking to Republicans, and vice versa. What’s happening? And, and give us hope. Give voters hope out there.”

JB: “Well, first of all, Joe, what I think you state is accurate. You know, that old bad joke, “some of my best friends…” Well, you know, when you [Scarborough] were in Congress some of your best friends were Democrats. And right now…and for my last forty years I’ve always gotten along with Republicans, and we used to talk to each other.

JB: “Look, here’s the best example I can give. Mike [Barnicle], you remember there used to be a private senate dining room. There was a senate dining room, where a senator could bring a guest in the capitol, and there was a little room with two big tables where senators when they wanted to eat with one another ate by themselves. And when I first got to the senate, Joe, Ted Kennedy, I didn’t want to be there at the time, but Ted Kennedy said you got to come over if you want to learn, come  sit at the table–from noon to one–and just listen. Because all the senators got together and they talked and swapped stories.”

JS: “…and by the way Republicans and Democrats alike…”

JB: “Yes and everybody was together. I went over and I get up there a lot, I was going to go in and have lunch with a lot of my old buddies. I walk in and there’s no tables any more. They don’t even have it anymore. There’s lounge chairs in there. And it used to be that when your gang came in–Newt–The big thing you all held up is “I have no passport.” Making sure you let everyone know ‘we don’t travel. We’re home, we don’t go to those foreign countries.’

JB: “Well, what happened is that we used to travel together. And you would go…I was just down to Australia. I would ordinarily go down as a senator with another Republican, and sometimes with their spouse. And you get to know somebody, you know that they have a husband or wife that’s suffering from cancer or a kid with a drug problem or whatever, it humanizes you.

JS: “Like in 1994 and I think it really did break when Newt came in…”

JB: “I’m not blaming Newt but…”

JS: “…No, no listen, there was a change in culture which was–Newt told everybody: ‘Don’t stay up here. Vote for three days. Rush home. Work the district. Work your offices in the district.’ And so suddenly, the kids weren’t going to school with each other. The spouses weren’t spending time together. A lot of people weren’t going out, golfing, or doing whatever they did. It’s a lot harder to call somebody a Nazi–or a Marxist–if your kids are in the same first grade class together.

JB: “By the way, that’s absolutely correct. So what happens now is most of those guys and women they don’t know one another…I can tell you a lot about the families…Look, Strong Thurmond asked me on his death bed to do his eulogy. I did Strong Thurmond’s eulogy. And I ran for the Senate against everything that Strong Thurman stood for. Jesse Helms, before I went to his funeral, his wife Dot who just passed away, came out in this big Baptist church we were there–and there were only two Democrats, me and Chris Dodd. She walked out, two daughters and his son he had adopted who was handicapped, who was in braces, and walked out and said, ‘We voted for you, Joe. We put your sign on our lawn.’ And I got more, not less progressive, but you get to know somebody. You listen to the other team. You listen to the other side. But there isn’t that much listening going on.”

Regardless of your political views, I think this is a great example–especially in government–about how things get done. I think it’s an important lesson to learn from–especially when I see it happen in organizations all the time–especially in the government sector. Nothing gets done unless people come together, collaborate, and find compromise. Regardless of where you work, ask yourself:

  • How do you seek to build relationships with others?
  • Are you maximizing those casual moments to get to know those you’re unfamiliar with?
  • Can you show respect for opinions different from your own?
  • Can you agree to disagree in your conversations with others?
  • What do others need to know to better know the real you?
  • Do you intentionally try to build relationships with those you differ with?

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