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Harris' Dinner For Female Senators Sees Women Bonding Amid A Divided Washington

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This week, Vice President Harris invited a few former co-workers to dinner. Her guests were women with whom she used to serve in the U.S. Senate, Republicans and Democrats. Dinners like that might be a surprise in this deeply divided Capitol, but senators say they need more of these moments. NPR's congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell reports.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: There was rose and fish, a simple centerpiece of white flowers and greenery and plenty of selfies. Basically, it was a normal dinner party.

TAMMY BALDWIN: It's like getting the band back together.

SNELL: That's Wisconsin Democrat Tammy Baldwin talking about the bipartisan dinner at Harris's new residence. The women of the Senate used to have dinners like this before the coronavirus made it impossible. So this was a chance to catch up. And West Virginia Republican Shelley Moore Capito said they also got to sample some of Harris's well-documented cooking skills.

SHELLEY MOORE CAPITO: She made herself these little cheese puffs. So, you know, that was the topic of conversation. Oh, we got to get the recipe.

SNELL: Capito, who's been a main negotiator on infrastructure, said that once they finally got together again, they just wanted to have fun.

CAPITO: Somebody asked me on my way out there, do you think you're going to be talking about infrastructure? And I said, I think we want to stay awake at dinner, and we're not (laughter) going to be talking about infrastructure. Of course not.

SNELL: That might seem strange in a moment when Congress is badly divided, but the Senate doesn't have a water cooler or some other natural place to hang out. Dinner is another way to bond.

MARK WARNER: It's so easy to characterize somebody that you might not agree with if all you know about them is what happens in a hearing. If you actually know about each other's kids and about each other's families, it's a lot harder to question somebody's motives.

SNELL: That's Mark Warner. He's a Virginia Democrat, and he's kind of famous in the Senate for throwing a pretty great party. He was one of the people who organized gatherings last year to hash out a compromise on COVID relief. Republicans like Mitt Romney of Utah and Susan Collins of Maine were there. So were Democrats like Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Dick Durbin, one of the top Democrats in the Senate.

WARNER: There were a half dozen times that could have completely gone off the rails, and a lot of that personal relationship was born of, you know, sometimes talking trash, you know, over a drink after a long dinner.

SNELL: Warner cautions that it's not like a few shared meals is a direct line to massive political compromise against party lines. But lawmakers generally agree that dinners, a few drinks and some good food can be a good starting place. Iowa Republican Joni Ernst, who was at the dinner with Harris, says it's just human.

JONI ERNST: We're people, too. And to get together and develop those relationships - not only is it good for our human spirit, but it is also very good for the people that we represent to know that we have relationships, and we can lean on those relationships to get our work done.

SNELL: Those happy dinners may come in handy in the next couple of months of legislating. Kelsey Snell, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.