SSI Technologies Vice President Matthew Weber had a captive audience of not one but two members of Congress on Monday morning.
Weber told Republican 1st District Rep. Bryan Steil and his congressional counterpart, Xochitl Torres Small, a Democratic U.S. representative from New Mexico, of the time when SSI developed an electronic control an American automaker needed quickly to deal with a massive parts recall.
Had it not been for a longtime relationship SSI employees had formed with the automaker, Weber told the two lawmakers, SSI might not have been able to help solve the automaker’s problem so quickly.
Weber maybe didn’t realize it, but he was highlighting how different sides can work across a divide. That’s something Steil and Torres Small, two lawmakers of different political feathers, said they’re trying to do with mini-bipartisan tours of each other’s Congressional districts.
Steil and Torres Small, both freshman members of Congress, on Monday toured businesses in Steil’s hometown and Congressional district as part of a “congressional exchange” organized by the Bipartisan Policy Center—a nonpartisan think tank that encourages lawmakers to cast away partisan politics to work together on policy.
In a Congress that’s viewed as being perhaps the most polarized and divided in decades, lawmakers such as Steil and Torres Small said they’re trying to bridge political chasms to get laws written and passed.
Steil in 2018 won a congressional district last held by Janesville Republican and former House Speaker Paul Ryan. He entered the Capitol after an election that resulted in Democratic lawmakers regaining control of the U.S. House and the GOP galvanizing its majority in the Senate.
At the same time, the House and Congress as a whole have become increasingly represented by members who are younger, female and ethnically diverse, even at a time when the country has become more deeply divided over gender and race issues.
It might be an easy time for Congress to become more deadlocked than ever amid partisan divides. Yet Steil said he believes there are GOP and Democratic lawmakers alike who are motivated to find common ground.
“I think one of the things we see is a need to get stuff done in Washington. There are issues that are not partisan in nature. And so I’m always looking for where there are areas that are not partisan that we can work together to get things done,” Steil said.
Steil and Small, who represents New Mexico’s sizeable 2nd District, have common ground in that they both won their districts after their predecessors opted not to run again. The difference is that Steil is a Republican in a district that has been held by the GOP for years. Small, a Democrat, won her district after GOP incumbent Steve Pearce declined to run again.
Small didn’t talk about that commonality, nor did she talk about differences in partisan philosophy that may exist between her and Steil.
Both came aboard Congress at the same time, Torres Small said.
“Bryan was one of the first members of Congress I met during the orientation program in D.C. Yeah. That was really helpful to talk to someone who’s also in the midst of starting up an office, finding the right team, getting used to and learning how to do this job right. And it’s a friendship that’s lasted for the 10 months we’ve been in Congress,” Torres Small said.
Torres Small is one of 47 lawmakers (19 of whom are Democrats) who in May co-sponsored Steil’s first bill, one that aims to address the illicit financing of human trafficking.
“That’s an issue that affects all 435 congressional districts. It affects cities like Janesville, and it affects rural areas in New Mexico. It affects them differently, but we’re all fighting the same battle,” Steil said.
Steil said he’s been open to working with other Democratic lawmakers on policy he said affects huge swaths of people, regardless of their political stripes, such as policy on middle-class jobs.
Steil said if there is partisan pressure not to work across the aisle, he’s not very concerned about it.
“To the extent people tell you to do it or not to do it, I’ll be honest, it doesn’t really matter at all to me,” Steil said. “I’m focusing on getting stuff done.”