Weekly Bipartisan Prayer Paying Dividends in Senate Negotiations

Lankford, Coons host the breakfast each Wednesday

Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., spearheads a weekly prayer breakfast for senators. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., spearheads a weekly prayer breakfast for senators. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted February 7, 2018 at 10:20am

The Senate has adopted a more bipartisan tone of late as lawmakers from both parties link up to reach compromises on sweeping spending and immigration packages.

One reason for the detente, at least two senators have said: prayer.

Every Wednesday morning in a room on the first floor of the Capitol, Senate Chaplain Barry Black leads a prayer breakfast for senators who wish to participate. The group is spearheaded by Sens. James Lankford, an Oklahoma Republican, and Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat.

About a quarter of Coons and Lankford’s colleagues show up on a weekly basis.

It’s a tradition that dates back to World War II. Senators from both parties have gathered on the Hill for prayer and breakfast one day a week since 1943.

Lawmakers know they are governing in an age of fierce partisanship pervading the country. But when chamber rules require 60 senators to sign on to a spending agreement, working across party lines is a must.

“That’s still a national conversation, whether the country wants that or not,” Lankford told CBS This Morning.

The prayer breakfast has helped Republicans and Democrats relate to each other.

“I do think it’s given us a different kind of relationship,” Coons said.

Coons rolled out a bipartisan immigration proposal with GOP Sen. John McCain of Arizona on Monday that would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who arrived as children with their parents and would also provide money for border security measures.

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President Donald Trump swatted down the legislation because it did not include immediate funding for a wall to be built along the border with Mexico, a key part of the president’s agenda.

But the weekly prayer group has helped build relationships and trust among lawmakers whose views on pressing policy issues may wildly diverge, some have said.

Lankford revealed an inside joke among many of the senators who regularly attend.

“It’s much harder to stab someone in the back after you prayed for them in the morning,” he said.