Agree or Disagree: Conversations across the Aisle

GSPM fellows and former U.S. Reps. Ryan Costello and Loretta Sanchez shared personal campaign and law-making experiences in the final installment of the bipartisan series.

April 23, 2021

Agree or Disagree: Conversations across the Aisle IV

From Left: GSPM Fellows Ryan Costello, Lorretta Sanchez and Reid Wilson discussed bipartisanship while campaigning and governing in Congress.

By Tatyana Hopkins

Although bipartisanship is not as commonplace in American politics as it once was, there is still a strong sense of comradery in Congress, said former Rep. Ryan Costello (R-Pa.). In fact, he said it was his favorite thing about working in the legislative branch of government while representing a portion of the Philadelphia suburbs from 2015-2019.

“There’s not even a close second,” Mr. Costello said. “Even last night, I was with some of the folks I served with. There's just a lot of really interesting, good natured people, and it's very difficult to find that in any other circle of life, where you just have that many people that are like-minded in their interest in something, which is our government.”

Mr. Costello joined former Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.), both of whom are GSPM Fellows, in a bipartisan conversation. Moderated by Reid Wilson, a national correspondent at the Hill and GSPM Fellow and adjunct professor, the discussion was the fourth and final installment of GSPM’s “Agree or Disagree: Conversations Across the Aisle” virtual series.

Launched in January, the series featured the three GSPM fellows in an effort to bring together speakers from both major political parties to discuss important issues in American politics including the expansion of executive power and the rise of the “imperial presidency,” breaking partisan gridlock on Capitol Hill and judicial reform.

In the most recent conversation, Mr. Costello and Ms. Sanchez shared personal experiences about working across the aisle both in campaigning and in the halls of Congress.

Ms. Sanchez said, party aside, Congress creates a network for current and former members to pick up the phone and exchange ideas.

“Even if we didn’t serve with them or even if we’re out of Congress...we’ll all take those calls, all of us,” she said. “I remember when I was a congresswoman and some old timer who I had no idea [who he was] would say he'd want to come by with some lobbyists, for example, or they want to come by and swing somebody in or what have you, it was always yes.”

She also recalled a more senior Republican congressman helping her find more tickets for her freshmen swearing-in ceremony when she needed more for family and friends.

While both Mr. Costello and Ms. Sanchez said there is lots of nonpartisan teamwork among members on the Hill, they also discussed times where party lines draw expected division such as fundraising for the National Republican Congressional Committee and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which are dedicated to electing candidates from the respective parties to Congress.

“I don't think that raising money to the NRCC or the DCCC gets in the way of having productive relationships across the aisle,” Mr. Costello said. “I think everybody kind of knows you’ve got to do that. Open seats come up, right.”

However, he said there are instances when national fundraising can be problematic to bipartisanship.

“The congressional committees have increasingly become sharper and have done things a lot earlier in the cycle, towards the vulnerable members on the other side, and so it becomes a little bit more difficult to not feel like they're out to get you,” Mr. Costello said. “If you're going to come after me in July and August and September and October November, I get it. But when I'm first sworn in, and you're doing digital ads against me right away, and I have to worry about some guy videotaping me when I'm crossing the street to go vote, that's a little bit of a different story.”

He also said while it is expected that Democratic colleagues support the national committee, it is harder to accept when they “double max” to directly support their opponents, especially if he considered them “good buddies.”

Ms. Sanchez agreed.

“I have lots of Republicans give against me,” she said. “I mean, that's just part of the whole structure of what happens. But you know really if people are coming in to campaign against you, then you're probably not too keen about that happening, especially if you've worked well together.”

Both former members of Congress also spoke about divides within their own parties.

Ms. Sanchez said her first initial run for Congress was not supported by the Democratic Party despite the success of her independent fundraising, largely because she was a relatively unknown Latina.

“They have a cookie cutter formula of how to run people and they back people that way,” she said. “Traditionally, a lot of women have gotten through, not because of that cookie cutter thing, but because of their sheer determination and fortitude to move beyond these obstacles that seem to be in the way.”

Mr. Costello, who is considering another run for office, said he is likely to face opposition from his own party.

“I would have primary issues,” he said. “I'm a fairly moderate person in my conservatism in a state where the Republican primary voters are very conservative. If there is an issue on cultural issues where Republicans differ, not Republicans versus Democrats, but where Republicans differ, in a primary maybe I wouldn't do quite as well.”

Overall, however, they said it is a pleasure to serve in Congress.

“It's a fraternity,” Ms. Sanchez said. “It's really a very unique group.”