DC’s Field of Bipartisan Dreams
Amid the rancor and dysfunction of Congress these days, one bright spot of bipartisan teamwork manages to survive — the annual Congressional Women’s Softball Game.
On the baseball diamond each spring, women from both sides of the aisle practice together, play together and set aside red and blue to wear the same color jerseys. This June 19 the bipartisan team of members will once again batter up against a team of the women journalists who cover them.
“It’s an oasis of civility,” says Lynn Sweet, Washington bureau chief for the Chicago Sun-Times and a right fielder for the Bad News Babes. “There’s nothing that unites the Democratic and Republican women of the House and Senate like their desire to beat the press.”
That desire, ever how strong, doesn’t always produce results. The members have lost to the Bad News Babes three years running. But the game, which benefits young women with breast cancer, also gives the elected women a chance to interact outside the increasingly sharp political divides of Congress. And that can make a difference in the halls of power.
“What I’ve always found striking about the game is the setting aside of partisanship for a good cause, and that seems to me to reflect how elected women of both parties are more likely than their male counterparts to find ways to work together,” Sweet told me on a recent call. “This game allows the members to be able to get to know each other.”
In addition to the bipartisan softball team, women members have other well established channels of collaboration. The Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues, started in 1977, touts a growing list of bipartisan accomplishments. Over in the Senate, for more than two decades Republican and Democratic women have been meeting up for monthly off-the-record dinners. Members from both aisles and both chambers also break bread together each year at the Running Start Young Women to Watch dinner that raises money to encourage young women of all political persuasions to run for office. (Disclosure: I serve on its Advisory Council).
As outfielder and pitcher Sen. Gillibrand once said: “Women tend to be less partisan, more collaborative, listen better, find common ground. Every time I’ve had a bill that’s important to me, I’ve had strong Republican women helping me pass it.”
The Congressional Women’s Softball Game is not to be confused with the Congressional Baseball Game where the House maintains its divide on the field — Republicans against Democrats and for many years all male. The Democrats have added a couple of women to the roster but it’s unclear if they’ll get off the bench. Two years ago the congressmen were practicing when a gunman opened fire, seriously wounding Rep. Steve Scalise (R-Louisiana) and four others. Since then extra security surrounds practices for both the Women’s Congressional Softball Game and the Congressional Baseball Game.
The women’s game started in 2009 when members learned that Florida Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz was battling breast cancer. Since then, the game has raised $1.3 million for the Young Survivors Coalition. It usually attracts a crowd of over 1,500, including the congressional leadership.
Both the members and Bad News Babes train rigorously with regular practices starting weeks in advance. This year the members won’t have 2018 MVP Mia Love, the Utah Republican defeated in her reelection bid. But thanks to the record number of women now serving in Congress (127), the members have a deeper bench to pick from and hope to reclaim victory.
The congressional team is co-captained by Republican congresswoman Martha Roby of Alabama and presidential hopeful Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York. Rookies listed on the roster include Washington’s newly elected Rep. Kim Schrier from the 8th Congressional District along with Reps. Del. Jenniffer González-Colón, (R-Puerto Rico), Debra Haaland (D-New Mexico), Katie Hill (D-California), Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pennsylvania), and former Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala, now representing Florida’s 27th and perhaps the oldest team member at 78.
For their part, the journalists, so often battered these days by politicians, relish the chance to continue their winning streak. As Sweet said: “This game is taken very seriously by all the players.”