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U.S. Senators Chris Murphy, Rob Portman Debate at GW

Timothy McCaffrey (l) and Ulvi M. Kasimov tour Dr. McCaffery’s lab where he is developing a RNA-based diagnostic device.

Timothy McCaffrey (l) and Ulvi M. Kasimov tour Dr. McCaffery’s lab where he is developing a RNA-based diagnostic device.

U.S. Senators Chris Murphy, Rob Portman Debate at GW

In a scene becoming less and less familiar during an increasingly polarized political climate, a Democrat and Republican civically discussed policy issues in a public forum as senators Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) took the stage Monday evening at George Washington University’s Jack Morton Auditorium to address inflation, gun control and immigration, in addition to responding to current and breaking news.

Monday’s event—moderated by CBS congressional correspondent Nikole Killion—was the second installment of The Senate Project, a series of three debates between U.S. senators supported by the Bipartisan Policy Center, Orrin G. Hatch Foundation and Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate. Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Ver.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) were the first participants in June, while the final debate will take place later this fall in Utah with two senators to be named later. The Senate Project’s goal with this debate series is to “reintroduce the culture of seeking common ground and consensus” during a time of great polarization that has eroded public trust in government.

“We are in such a challenging time where conversations like this are unfortunately the exception rather than the rule,” said GW School of Media and Public Affairs Director of Strategic Initiatives Frank Sesno, who delivered opening remarks. “We try here to say to our students that this is the future, figuring out ways to be at a table together, yes to engage where we disagree, but also to seek ways for us to agree, compromise and find common ground. That's the way we need to move forward if we're going to thrive as a nation over time.”

More recently, the two have come together and signed off on bipartisan legislation that includes the Safer Communities Act addressing gun violence, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the CHIPS and Science Act that incentivizes strategic investments to secure U.S. supply chains. Portman and Murphy have also both indicated they will support the Respect for Marriage Act.

“We have passed some pretty good legislation in the past couple of years,” Portman said. “It’s never perfect. The infrastructure bill was not exactly as I would have written it, nor was the gun bill exactly as Chris would have written it. But we do have a responsibility to actually serve the people and getting something done that helps move the process forward.”

Murphy considered the gun bill more of a compromise as it did not include bans on assault rifles or universal background checks as he had hoped. But coming together at least moves the needle on key issues, he said.

“Despite how broken this institution appears from the outside, when you put the gun bill with the potential for Respect for Marriage Act, the infrastructure bill, the CHIPS Act, this is a pretty impressive list of bipartisan accomplishment in a 50-50 Senate in a time of deep division in the American public,” Murphy said. “All of this, despite the disagreements we're having today, gives me hope.”


Read a full recap of the Senate Project debate at GWToday.

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