MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - A pair of Texas Congressmen from opposing parties managed to drive 1,600 miles together and invited everyone along for the ride. They made it to the U.S. Capitol Wednesday night to the delight of their Facebook Live fans.
A major snowstorm on March 14, 2017 canceled flights to our nation's capital, necessitating the use of a rental car (a Chevrolet Impala). As the unlikely duo were wheeling into the D.C. area on Wednesday evening, March 15, at the end of their long ride together, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich called in to their rolling town hall meeting being carried live on Facebook.
"You're proving to all of us that being positive changes everything," Gingrich said of the road tripping legislators.
Gingrich remembered late U.S. House Minority Leader Bob Michael, a Republican of Peoria, IL who used to drive to D.C. regularly with the late Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Democrat Dan Rostenkowski.
"They became close friends even when they were partisan opponents," Gingrich said. Friendships between members on the opposite sides of the partisan aisle were common throughout Congressional history, but have become a rarity in recent times as our nation has divided along Red or Blue lines. The former House Speaker said the deeply divided Congress should adopt Hurd and O'Rouke's attitude and could become a symbol of bipartisanship. Gingrich said Hurd and O'Rourke's example might help improve bipartisan cooperation on a proposed $1 trillion infrastructure bill that the Trump Administration intends to propose.
Responding to their Facebook audience throughout the first leg of their journey from San Antonio to Memphis, Hurd and O'Rouke discussed every major issue for hours on end from health care to defense spending. But their exchange was far from a policy wonk snooze fest you might find in the wee hours on C-SPAN. Instead, the Congressmen revealed their tastes in music, food, and talked extensively about their friendships in the U.S. Capitol building.
When the pair revealed they were in the Memphis area, Mid-South viewers on Facebook directed the duo to a noted doughnut shop. By the time I reached Gibson's Donuts in East Memphis late Tuesday night, Hurd and O'Rourke had greeted customers and picked up a hot dozen to go.
"It smells delicious," said Congressman Hurd. "This is one of the great things about travelling across the country. I just learned today he (O'Rourke) loves donuts. So we put that out there and everybody told us, 'you've got to stop at Gibson's.' So this is an opportunity for us to get along, to talk about the
things that we share in common not just the things that divide us. You know: bipartisanship: you come together for donuts," the Republican said.
Congressman O'Rourke: "So we're trying to be responsive to the folks as we've been travelling from San Antonio now (on the Facebook Live Feed) to Memphis. When we told folks we were going to Graceland, everyone on the feed who knew anything about Gibson's insisted we come here," Congressman O'Rourke said. "So we wanted to make sure we came here and the folks at Gibson's were kind enough to have a dozen and two t-shirts ready for us. So we are super grateful to the family."
Throughout their road trip, Hurd and O'Rourke called Congressional colleagues whose voices could be heard by the Facebook audience as the Texas legislators drove with their eyes switching between their telephone screen and interstate highway traffic.
"As other members of Congress have called in and we asked who's the member on the other side of the aisle who you'd to take a road trip with? We're trying to make it happen," O'Rourke said. "I think the next time we do this we're going to need a bigger car. That's something we're going to encourage folks to do. It's been fun. And look, Beto and I always don't agree on stuff. We haven't. But it's great seeing the other side. You can disagree without being disagreeable. People have enjoyed this today," said the GOP House member.
Both survived and appeared to have become much closer friends, something Gingrich noted in his call.
"You've been changed forever," the Speaker said. The two wanted to get back to Washington to vote on a long list of legislative business, including Rep. John Lewis' Martin Luther King Historic Park Act of 2017, the duo said.