Frances Lee: There's more bipartisanship in Congress than we know

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi administers the oath of office
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi administers the oath of office to members of the 117th Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 3, 2021.
Bill Clark | Pool photo via AP

The Minnesota Legislature faces deadlines to reach bipartisan agreements on the state budget to avoid a government shutdown. Meanwhile, President Joe Biden is giving Republicans one week to strike a deal on a major infrastructure bill before Democrats move to pass a bill with only Democratic support.

But political scientist Frances Lee of Princeton University says there is always more bipartisanship in Congress than we know. And there has also always been intra-party division, but sometimes the public is “misled by the ease with which their party can come together to pass symbolic measures.”

Lee co-authored the 2020 book “The Limits of Party: Congress and Lawmaking in a Polarized Era.” She says it’s very unusual not to have bipartisanship and rare for one party to pass legislation with only that party’s support. “Divided government is typical,” she said, “and unified governments are rare and usually short-lived.”

While presidents typically have about a 50 percent public approval rating, for members of Congress, that’s more like 25 percent.

Politicians don’t take enough credit for the laws they do pass in a bipartisan fashion. There’s an “endless cycle of over-promising and under-delivering, and then their supporters feel they’re being let down constantly.”

Lee spoke virtually in April with political science professor Larry Jacobs of the University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

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