These Representatives Want to Make Congress More Functional by Electing More Women—to Both Parties

October 22, 2019, 6:22 PM UTC

Even in our divisive age, there are still U.S. legislators who put collaboration and problem-solving over partisanship. Two of them are Elissa Slotkin, a Michigan Democrat in her first House term, and Elise Stefanik, a Republican representative first elected from upstate New York in 2014. Slotkin and Stefanik discussed the lessons they’ve learned working across the aisle on Tuesday at Fortune‘s Most Powerful Women summit in Washington, D.C.

The two have cosponsored 85 bills in the House, according to Stefanik. That has fostered a working friendship that, to hear them tell it, is reminiscent of a bygone era of congressional cameraderie. Stefaniks’ problem-solving approach has led to her ranking in the top 10% of House members on measures of bipartisanship in a study from Georgetown University.

“It’s a conscious effort,” said Slotkin of bipartisan collaboration, recounting how, on her first day in the House, she made a point of crossing the aisle to greet Stefanik. “I would say that the number of people in Congress who make that conscious effort is probably not big enough.”

It helps that the two share a focus on national security. One of their cosponsored bills, the Paid Ad Act, would ban foreign actors from buying election ads on social media platforms.

“No matter what party you’re from,” said Slotkin, “I think most of us agree that foreigners should not have a hand in trying to influence our political process.”

Slotkin also acknowledged that her and Stefanik’s bipartisanship is grounded in coming from districts that are roughly evenly split between parties.

“Our seats are competitive. That means it’s our job to reach out to the broadest possible group of people,” Slotkin continued. “That’s a good thing. And if everyone in Congress had that kind of drive pushing them back home, I think we’d actually get a lot more done.”

Those sorts of districts are becoming fewer and farther between thanks to partisan gerrymandering at the state level.

Stefanik and Slotkin’s significant accomplishments in the House have frequently stalled when they reached the slower-moving and increasingly partisan Senate. “As a House member,” said Stefanik, “what frustrates me is, we often pass very bipartisan bills, and they go nowhere in the Senate.”

Stefanik proposes one solution based on her own experiences: Elect more women. “I believe strongly that we will be a more functioning Congress when we have more women in both parties . . . women tend to be more bipartisan policymakers.”

That’s a particular challenge, of course, for Stefanik’s own party. There are currently only 13 Republican women serving in the House. That’s both a 25-year low, and a stark contrast with the 89 women serving as Democrats.

More must-read stories from Fortune’s MPW Summit:

—How a corporate board can engage on company culture
—The “sisterhood” isn’t working for all women in business—yet
—These reps want to make Congress work better by electing more women—to both parties
Old Navy CEO says inclusivity is key to the brand’s growth, now and post spinoff
—Anita Hill calls on candidates to address gender violence
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