Congressman Bryan Steil’s biggest accomplishment in 2019 didn’t appear in a piece of legislation but in his willingness to work with members on the other side of the aisle.
While low in the House GOP pecking order, the Janesville Republican’s freshman status proved freeing. He was able to break down some partisan barriers and seek out common ground with Democrats.
Amid bitter divisions over President Trump’s impeachment, Steil has been advocating for an obscure group known as the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress. Steil, who represents Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District, joined 32 of his colleagues in signing a Nov. 12 letter asking House leadership to allow the committee to continue its work into the new year.
In an interview with The Gazette this week, Steil said the Beltway’s partisan traditions became apparent before he even took office. About a week after winning the 2018 election, he joined 89 other freshmen members for an orientation event at the Capitol. He was stunned to find out they would travel from their Courtyard Marriott Hotel to the Capitol not as a group but with Democrats and Republicans riding separate buses.
“It was about the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen,” Steil said about the bus ride. “It ingrains the partisanship versus allowing people to naturally make relationships with their colleagues.”
Changing that orientation process is part of a proposed House resolution based on the modernization committee’s recommendations, several of which aim to give Republicans and Democrats more opportunities to work together.
Other recommendations call for the creation of a “bipartisan members-only space in the Capitol,” “bipartisan committee staff briefings and agenda-setting retreats” and “biennial bipartisan retreats for members and their families.”
The recommendations and Steil’s support for them are apple-blossom-scented-spring-breeze refreshing.
If anyone can inspire this Congress to work across the aisle, it’s the freshmen class. The group is less jaded and less set in its ways than the leadership. Steil replaced a congressman known for his big ideas, but Paul Ryan wasn’t much of a bridge builder. In short supply today are people who can develop working relationships with moderate members of the other party—people who can get something accomplished.
Steil seems to want to show that he’s more than another GOP peg to fit in a GOP hole inside the Beltway. When Democratic Rep. Xochitl Torres Small from New Mexico visited Janesville last year and toured the city with Steil, their meeting raised eyebrows. Steil perhaps possesses more moxie than his subdued, sometimes bland campaign message suggests.
We hope Steil continues to embrace bipartisan initiatives in 2020, and we encourage Democrats and Republicans alike to cheer him on.