At a time in Washington when hopes for bipartisanship seem elusive, Vice President Kamala Harris is hosting women senators from both parties at her home Tuesday evening for what lawmakers say is strictly a social event.
Senators said before the dinner that they expected the gathering, Harris’ first official event at her Naval Observatory home, would not include politics on the evening’s menu.
Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, said that she was merely looking to “break bread” with her colleagues and see how they can work together. “Women are problem solvers, and perhaps the Republican women will break ranks from their caucus to urge more bipartisan work,” she added.
Harris, a former senator who represented California until she became vice president earlier this year, invited all 24 women currently serving in the Senate to dine with her. Republican Sens. Joni Ernst and Shelley Moore Capito said they were personally invited by Harris and both planned to attend.
Capito, R-W.Va., who had been negotiating an infrastructure deal with President Joe Biden until recently, said she saw the dinner as a friendly get-together.
“Having a good meal is what I hope to accomplish,” she said with a smile.
Capito said that when she saw Harris a couple of weeks ago, the vice president told her she was thinking about inviting the women of the Senate over. “I said, what a great idea.”
She said she doubted the conversation would “get too deep into policy,” including on infrastructure and voting rights legislation that Democrats are seeking to pass. “We want to stay awake during dinner,” Capito said.
The dinner comes as the Biden administration continues to make efforts to gain some Republican support for its policy priorities. The president has negotiated with GOP senators on an infrastructure plan, and lawmakers from both parties are trying to put together a deal.
Ernst, a Republican from Iowa, told McClatchy, “It’s just going to be very personal. It’s not a political meeting. It is the bipartisan women’s group that we have had from the Senate for years now. So I just hope it is friendly conversation and just talking about our families. I think that’s what we need right now.”
Ernst said she saw Harris at retired Col. Ralph Puckett’s Medal of Honor ceremony at the White House last month. “She brought it up and said, ‘I really want to have the women senators get together again,’” Ernst said. “I thought it was a great idea.”
Harris as vice president can cast tie-breaking votes in the evenly divided Senate. When she was a senator, elected in 2016, she served with most of the women who will be attending her dinner, particularly members of the Senate’s Judiciary and Intelligence Committees.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who often plays a key role in bipartisan negotiations on infrastructure and other administration priorities, also said “I think it will be social.”
“And maybe by doing this, we will be able to have some of the women -- the senators — will be able to work on things in a bipartisan way. That’s my hope,” Hirono said.
Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., said the dinner would be a good opportunity to recognize the history made when Harris was elected.
“I think it’s a great day for women everywhere to celebrate just breaking the glass ceiling — the first woman vice president. It doesn’t matter what party it is. It’s historical,” Rosen said. “One day I hope I’ll tell my grandkids about it.”