Style + Ask The Edit

The Hill Life: Crossing the Aisle

Belle,

I was recently at a reception and ran into a friend that is attending grad school in the DC area and I haven’t seen in a while.  So of course we caught up and chatted.  I happen to work for a Republican office on the hill, while my friend has worked for Democratic offices.  I felt as though I was getting strange looks from other conservatives, especially from those who work on the hill.  Obviously we have our differences, but I don’t think that means we can’t be civil. This friend happened to ask me to grab drinks this weekend, and I thought it sounded like a great idea.  Then I was approached by a conservative friend who couldn’t believe I would accept. Do you have friends on the “other side of the aisle?” If you do, do you think it has hampered your relationships with friends of the same values or coworkers? Maybe I’m missing something, but I just don’t see the big deal.

Thanks for any advice you can give!

S

When I was a staffer, I had a number of grad school and college friends who worked in Democratic offices.  I also worked with Democratic staffers to write and promote legislation, manage bipartisan caucuses and offer amendments.  Neither I, nor they, ever expressed any reservations about working together, being friends outside of work or being seen together at Hill events. 

In fact, I contacted nearly a dozen current and former staffers from both sides of the aisle and could not find a single person who felt that having a personal relationship with someone on the other side of the aisle was a problem.  One current Majority staffer even remarked, “What is she going to do, show her friend the secret handshake?”

I don’t mean to make light of your question, since you clearly feel that your colleagues were looking at you strangely.  But unless your office is the reddest or bluest office on Capitol Hill, I don’t see how having personal or professional relationships with people on the other side could be viewed as a problem. 

The Hill is a small, small place and staffers often work together in a bipartisan fashion or meet at after-work events.  Having friends who work for a member of the other party can be a huge help when you need an alternate perspective, are trying to gather intelligence or need a bipartisan cosponsor for a bill. But you also have to know where to draw the line.  I certainly wouldn’t advise taking a Dem friend for lunch at the Republican Club or sharing internal policy discussions outside of the office.

Frankly, I would be more concerned if my employee refused to be friends with a Democrat than I would if my employee had friends who are Democrats.  Some of my best friends are Democrats (*wink*), and for me, having friends on the other side of the aisle was an asset.

So what do you think?  Is crossing the aisle a do or a don’t on Capitol Hill?

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    25 comments

  1. MM says:

    I think the loss of cross party friendships – among both staff and members – has really contributed to the current horribly hostile and hyper-partisan environment on the Hill. If you look at the other side as “the enemy” rather than people who are just trying to do what they think is best for the country, even if it's not what you think is best, then there's no way you can ever compromise with them. So please, go out there and make some friends on the other side – it's good for the country!

    June 27, 2012/Reply
  2. Ellen says:

    Wow? Really? I only worked on the Hill for two years, and while I tended to have more friends within my party affiliation, one of my best friends from college (and frequent sparring partner in all of our poli sci classes) worked “on the other sideof the aisle” and I never noticed any problems with it except from maybe one lighthearted joke that I better not let her “convert me” during our montly mani/pedis but it was just that, a JOKE. I can't imagine someone saying something like that SERIOUSLY.

    June 27, 2012/Reply
  3. jd says:

    That is ridiculous. I'm very liberal and work in the Administration, but some of my closest friends – and my boyfriend – are Republican. We may have different views on policy issues, but I'd like to think of myself as more than my political stances. This girl should, too!

    June 27, 2012/Reply
  4. Shannon says:

    This makes me incredibly sad. No wonder Congress is a shouty, rancorous mess – if you aren't a “true believer” you're snubbed by your own party.

    June 27, 2012/Reply
  5. Kathryn says:

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/dana-milbank-the-seersucker-bond-unraveled/2012/06/26/gJQArzoJ5V_story.html

    Did you see the Post story about how Seersucker Thursday fostered bipartisanship?

    June 27, 2012/Reply
  6. er says:

    By the way, it's Democratic, not Democrat.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democrat_Party_%28phrase%29

    June 27, 2012/Reply
  7. DemGirl says:

    I work in a southern state legislature in the Democratic office. Many of my friends (and even my boyfriend) are Republicans. Granted state legislatures are different, but I think that having friends “across the aisle” makes me a more effective staffer. There are many issues that may not be split along party lines, and it helps to have existing relationships in those situations.

    On a lighter note, a friend is a friend. Frankly, if you trust someone enough to be friends with them, their party affiliation shouldn't matter.

    June 27, 2012/Reply
  8. Ella says:

    I've definitely gotten reactions from coworkers in my conservative Republican office for having friends who are Democrats, or even moderate Republicans. When it happens, I usually just shrug it off. I'm not going to let a bunch of narrow minded people dictate who I can be friends with. I've met some great people and have wonderful friendships with people who are vastly different from me politically. It's also been good professionally. Being able to interact with people from a point of respect gets you ahead fast on the Hill. You may get some snarky comments and sidelong glances, but the people who are actually getting things done admire an ability to get past partisanship and focus on the issues.

    June 27, 2012/Reply
  9. M says:

    Democratic. The Democratic Party. Democrat is a pejorative.

    June 27, 2012/Reply
  10. EK says:

    It's a big “do.” Similar politics, or the lack thereof, should never form the sole basis for your friendships. Besides, Hill staff always have things in common – the parties may differ, but the day to day tasks are largely the same.

    June 27, 2012/Reply
  11. Belle says:

    M: Interesting. I'll change it.

    June 27, 2012/Reply
  12. Belle says:

    Shannon: This isn't the usual. I think most bosses and coworkers could care less who people go to drinks with or shop for shoes with. In fact, I'd never even thought of it being a problem til I saw the email.

    June 27, 2012/Reply
  13. Sara says:

    I'm a Democratic Hill staffer dating a wonderful conservative Republican Hill staffer and I live with two conservative Republican Hill staffers. In fact, I don't have a single Democratic friend here in DC. At the end of the day, we're all trying to do our jobs the best we can, regardless of our political views.

    June 27, 2012/Reply
  14. Sara says:

    Oh, and P.S.— Having friends on the other side of the aisle is an asset at work; however, my friends and I have an agreement that what they tell me about work is on a personal level as a friend telling a friend about their day. If I were to use something personally told to me at work, I would ask them first. I wouldn't sneak behind their back just to get ahead. I'm a friend first, Hill staffer second.

    June 27, 2012/Reply
  15. XF says:

    I wonder how this differs among men and women on the Hill, and if having more women on the Hill could help foster more civility and bipartisanship. I think I've seen studies that show women are more likely to cross the aisle and work together than their male counterparts. The women of the Senate gather regularly for dinners, and I love the story Sen. Gillibrand tells of Sen. Collins leaning over and telling her, “Kirsten, if it was you and me, we'd have the budget done by now.” Of course there will be outliers and nutjobs in any party, but we'd be so much better off if we could cut this divisive crap.

    June 27, 2012/Reply
  16. Umphie says:

    Good, decent people, who are valuable as friends, can be found in either party. Some people have serious roadblocks to accepting this fact.

    June 27, 2012/Reply
  17. Anon says:

    First – I think the commenters who posted about the “democratic” versus democrat need to chill. While, admittedly, I personally learned something from this today, I feel like it takes away from the actual conversation/question at hand. This is a blog. Not a major news source. Get off your high horse.

    Second, some of my closest friends are across the aisle. We have even turned it into a little bit of a friendly competition of who can get a promotion in their respective office, etc. I love it.

    June 27, 2012/Reply
  18. AB says:

    Anon, I think that M and er noting that the correct word is “democratic” not “democrat” does not take away from the conversation at hand but in fact supplements it. As our two major parties have drifted further and further apart, we have reduced ourselves to making little jabs at one another so frequently that sometimes we don't even consciously notice them anymore. Some voices in the Republican party started referring to the “Democrat Party” years ago as a subtle way to pick at their opponent's legitimacy. The use of the incorrect word has become an indicator of viewing a member of the other party as purely an opponent rather than a colleague with different viewpoints. Those of us on both sides of the party line have become guilty of viewing politics this way. Rather than feeling that we are all colleagues looking to serve the American people the best we can, our reflex has become to question friendships that cross the aisle.

    I think Belle's decision to correct her wording and your acknowledgment of having learned something from the earlier commenters is indicative of how so many of us dislike the knee-jerk vitriol and have chosen elevate the culture on the hill so we can all learn from our colleagues across party lines–whether it is about their opinion on a contentious political issue or about the best place in the city for a mani/pedi.

    June 27, 2012/Reply
  19. Moose says:

    In five years on the Hill I never even heard rumors of something so childish. “Across the aisle”-ness isn't just okay…. it's basically REQUIRED, as you pointed out. Your response was perfect, Belle.

    This “Secret Society” view of Congressional bipartisanship seems to be a view that lacks any firsthand knowledge of how Congress works internally— intern issue maybe?

    June 27, 2012/Reply
  20. S says:

    Just an idea – could the bosses have been kidding? Maybe the letter writer is new and not totally secure in the job and took it seriously?

    June 27, 2012/Reply
  21. Belle says:

    Anon/AB: I appreciate that they said something. I didn't see it as a complaint, just a correction. And I learned something new, which I always enjoy.

    June 27, 2012/Reply
  22. grlnextdoor says:

    Absolutely cross the aisle! That has been one of my favorite things about the Women's Congressional Staff Association is gathering first as women before thought of our political affiliation. I have great friends on the other side as well.

    June 27, 2012/Reply
  23. K says:

    To the original poster: Is it possible that the naysayers' attitudes toward your friend were due to other factors, and not her party affiliation? You stated that your friend “has worked for Democratic offices.” Your friend might have gained a reputation on the Hill (earned or not) during the time period that you were out of touch. Perhaps the naysayers used partisan politics as an excuse to discourage you from associating with her, without having to explain the real reason for their feelings.

    June 27, 2012/Reply
  24. gingerr says:

    Gosh, I hope staffers cross the aisle, from what I read in the papers someone needs to and many elected officials are too busy flying home to even make friends with their peers!

    As a hostess I like to have friends of many viewpoints. Nothing is more boring than a party where all anybody does is bash the other side with nobody to take the other side. Living in Maryland Conservative guests are scarce — I try to treat them royally so they'll come over again!

    One of my biggest gripes are Democratic guests who won't let the Conservatives finish their thoughts before they bring out the attack dogma. I had one fellow that I had to step in and say, “Bill, I'm interested in what Dave is saying, let's let him finish.” Needless to say, “Bill” is not on my guest list anymore.

    June 27, 2012/Reply
  25. hillybilly says:

    Definitely make friends, maybe one day you'll find jobs that way. I worked for a year for conservatives, even though I was a progressive, on a neutral issue. It ended up widening my perspectives and I grew so much from this experience without compromising my personal political beliefs. Right after this bipartisan job, I got another job with my own party so it didn't hurt my career at all.

    June 28, 2012/Reply