‘These Kinds Of Discussions Are Good For The Country’
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Fox News Channel anchor Bret Baier wonders if the U.S. Senate—once called the world’s greatest deliberative body—can escape the polarization of Washington and find a way back to becoming a place where senators engage in passionate, meaningful debate of the issues—rather than simply using their time in the Senate to fire shots at the other side. “We don’t see these grand debates on the Senate floor that much anymore,” Baier told me. “We don’t really hear the substantive discussions about what goes into legislation like we used to. I think some of the characters of the Senate have more of a sound bite or Twitter post kind of operation.”

With that in mind, Baier found himself this week in a full-sized replica of the Senate Chamber at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute in Boston, where he moderated an unusual Oxford-style debate between Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Lindsey Graham, the first in a series of debates between senators called The Senate Project. “I hope that it’s something that takes off as far as people wanting to do it, to be given that time to express where they really are,” Baier told me.

“We initiated this idea in response to what is the most serious division in this country in decades,” said Bruce A. Percelay, chairman of the board of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute. “It is our hope that this effort will help demonstrate that compromise in the U.S. Senate is actually possible.”

It’s also a response to the way the news media covers politics. “All too often, network programming—whether on television or online—sows division and contempt among viewers by exaggerating the differences between us,” said Matt Sandgren, executive director of the Orrin G. Hatch Foundation, which will host the third debate in the series later this year. “But The Senate Project seeks to do the exact opposite. It seeks to forge compromise and consensus while still respecting substantive disagreements that exist between the two parties. Our hope is to show that bipartisanship and vigorous debate can coexist—and that civility is still possible, even in today’s hyper-polarized world.”

For Graham, the chance to talk past sound bites was attractive—as was the opportunity to engage with Sanders. “I like Bernie. We’re going to see what capitalism and socialism looks like in a debate forum,” Graham told Baier on Fox News ahead of the debate. “Bernie is about as far left as you can get and I think I’m a solid conservative. You may be surprised and I might be surprised there may be some common ground. We won’t know until we talk. What is missing in politics is a chance to sit down and talk.”

“We are not going to have a food fight, but we’re going to have real serious disagreements. You know, you do an hour news every night, we’re going to have a chance to spend an hour with a Democrat and Republican talking about what are the real problems facing the nation. What’s your idea? What’s my idea? And can we up here in that building find some common ground?”

“I think that you know, we’ll see if this, this format takes off,” Baier said. “There’s a lot of talk about the presidential debates and how they should be more substantive. I think there’s a challenge there and how they’re structured, because of the number of candidates that have been involved, but ideally, to get to the heart of issues and for somebody to defend where they stand is powerful stuff.”

The debate airs Saturday night at 7 p.m. ET on Fox News Channel.

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