The two senators will face off in an hourlong debate Monday, moderated by Fox News host Bret Baier and streamed live at noon on Fox Nation.
So why did Graham agree to this? “Nothing else to do,” he joked this week, before quickly adding, “No, no, really. I think it’ll be fun.”
Sanders had a slightly different prediction. “Democracy in America is under assault from right-wing Republican extremists. There’s no question about that,” he said. “But I look forward to sharp discussion.”
Whether the debate will be “fun” or “sharp” or maybe both, the two men can’t just fall back on their usual dynamic as chairman and ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee. For this event, they agreed to a format that feels more like a high school debate competition.
The irascible democratic socialist from Vermont and the outspoken Republican from South Carolina will go back and forth in an Oxford-style debate of arguments and rebuttals before sitting down with Baier for a question-and-answer session. No winner will be declared, but at the end, the pair will try to find common ground.
Monday’s focus is expected to be the economy, an issue proving to be divisive in the upcoming midterm elections over which the two have significant disagreements — to say the least.
“I hope it will be fun and hopefully informative,” Graham said. “I like Bernie, and we’ll find out — maybe there’s some things that even the two of us agree upon.”
The event is the first of three that will be hosted this year by the Bipartisan Policy Center in collaboration with the Orrin G. Hatch Foundation and the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate.
Organizers hope the debate series will prod lawmakers to seek consensus and rediscover the essence of the Senate, said Steve Scully, a spokesman for BPC. To complete the mood, Sanders and Graham will do it all inside the Kennedy Institute’s full-scale recreation of the Senate chamber in Boston, where a live audience will fill the gallery and some of the replica mahogany desks.
The second event in July will be moderated by CBS congressional correspondent Nikole Killion at George Washington University, and the third will take place in the fall in Salt Lake City.
In the past, lawmakers managed to be both fiercely partisan and committed to legislating across the aisle, Scully said. He pointed to the namesakes of the sponsoring groups, Hatch and Kennedy.
“They had their points of view,” he said. “But they also knew the country was made on compromise.”