Alyssa Rosenberg and Marc Thiessen are both Washington Post columnists and they disagree strongly about abortion. For the past year or so, they’ve had an ongoing, private conversation about where they agree on family policy, and two weeks ago, they wrote up their common ground ideas.
There’s a lot I like (and some I don’t). I asked Alyssa if she’d be up to chat about what the process of trying to have a fruitful conversation across the abortion divide was like, and you can listen to our conversation above.
(Big shoutout to Elizabeth, who fixed the volume disparity between me and Alyssa!)
We talked about how she and Marc Thiessen addressed their differences and what they had to set aside as intractable for now. We also talked a little about how to lobby Congress to actually get these ideas to be law. (I’ve excerpted the transcript below).
Leah Sargeant, Other Feminisms:
I want to ask about your perspective on lobbying these legislators, because one thing that's a little dispiriting to me is it often feels like members of Congress benefit more from being one election away from victory than delivering victory.
On the pro-life side, it feels like a lot of legislators were disappointed by the Dobbs decision, because having pro-lifers on the hook for votes for justices is better for them than having to actually pass and be accountable for pro-life legislation. And I think this is kind of stood out for me most strongly on the Democrat side for when it comes to immigration where It's beneficial to the Democrats to have kind of a captive constituency of people seeking major immigration reform and amnesty. It's very costly to them to deliver it and always better to be like, we need a few more seats or a few more dollars to try that next year.
How do you think about kind of the the sincerity of people behind these message bills, or how to hold their feet to the fire for things they've endorsed… since they know they don't have the votes to pass it?
Alyssa Rosenberg, Washington Post
Oh man, if only I knew how to persuade Congress to do things, the world would be a happier place in my humble opinion. I think there are a couple of different things at work here.
There of course is this huge advantage to like being the guy who has a comprehensive proposal that's never going to pass. Marco Rubio comes across as much more serious on a policy level because of things like the big sort of ominous bills he's been writing on family life. But he's not on the hook for actually passing any of them. And so there's sort of reputation management here.
But there's also a phenomenon that Matt Yglesias likes to refer to as the Secret Congress, which is the fact that despite all of the large-scale congressional dysfunction that we see, there are groups of members in Congress who just get a lot of stuff done across party lines all the time. And to preserve the efficacy of Secret Congress, you have to kind of not talk about Secret Congress.
But I think family policy stuff is kind of the perfect target for the Secret Congress, even if you do a bunch of small stuff, even if you do a bunch of pilot projects, because there's just a level of curiosity, but also experience of the need that unites members of Congress.
I’m really grateful to Alyssa for making the time, and, most of all, for being willing to talk openly about our disagreement on abortion at the end of the episode. She’s a good faith interlocutor. I’m glad when we can fight on the same side, and when we differ, I hope our conversations eventually lead us both toward the truth.
A few show notes and links for ideas we touched on:
Tara McGuinness at New America, who works on making sure policy solutions work for the most vulnerable in practice.
- , on Secret Congress