Oklahoma U.S. Rep. Tom Cole was among the guests at a think tank’s panel discussion this week on building partnerships in Congress.
The virtual panel was hosted by the nonpartisan Aspen Institute as part of their McCloskey Speakers Series.
Cole agreed with U.S. Virgin Islands Delegate Stacey Plaskett that lawmakers quickly learn which of their colleagues they can work with because they’re trying to get things done.
Cole said he likes to think of Congress as a small town.
"And I always say in a small town, everybody knows who contributes to the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, everybody knows who tithes at church, everybody knows who you can borrow a lawn mower from, and everybody knows who will bring the lawnmower back," Cole said.
The Oklahoma lawmaker said appropriations and agriculture committees are fertile ground for negotiations and agreements, praising typical members' deal-making spirit. Cole said Republicans and Democrats can effectively work together on common-ground issues as well, like improving early childhood education and expanding access to vocational school programs.
Cole decried lawmakers in Congress to make a point rather than a difference.
"I mean, if you're just interested on the number of Facebook followers you have and how provocative you could be, how often that gets you in the press — well, that's terrific if that's your objective. But you're not going to get anything done for your district, and you're certainly not going to get anything done of consequence nationally for the good of the country," Cole said.
House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro was also a guest. Cole is the vice ranking Republican on her committee, and she admitted that as members of different parties, they differ on most issues.
"But we have a sense of each other in terms of what we believe, what we believe the institution is capable of and how it can help to make that difference for the people we serve," DeLauro said.
Cole also pointed out 2020 was a difficult year, but a Congress people see as completely divided accomplished a lot.
"But Congress got five coronavirus bills done of over $4 trillion. Congress got the appropriations process done with no hint of a government shutdown. Congress even overruled a Republican presidential veto of the [National Defense Authorization Act]. So, don't tell me we can't get stuff together when we sit down and are practical about it," Cole said.
While it was not mentioned during the think tank’s event, it must be noted for context Cole and the rest of Oklahoma’s all-Republican House delegation in January objected to the results of the 2020 election despite there being no evidence of the widespread voter fraud former President Trump claimed cost him the election.