Democratic Sen. Chris Coons once dodged elephants in Mozambique with GOP Sen. Jeff Flake. He lunched with Ivanka Trump. And he helped pass legislation Wednesday by partnering with GOP Sen. Bob Corker and the ultra-conservative Rep. Ted Yoho, a member of the hard-line House Freedom Caucus.
Amid the partisan grandstanding and noise on Capitol Hill, Coons’ wonky, soft-spoken approach is unusual – and he seems to have colleagues’ ear.
That’s why it’s no surprise to those who know Coons that he was in the middle of the Senate’s singular bipartisan moment during the spectacle that has been Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing.
Progressives want him to take a harder line with Republicans. But Coons’ history of bipartisanship allowed him to strike an agreement with Flake on the Senate Judiciary Committee, leading to an FBI investigation of sexual misconduct complaints against Kavanaugh from high school and college. Coons got an investigation Democrats wanted; Flake got a weeklong limitation. Kavanaugh denies all allegations.
“Ever since I’ve known Chris he’s always been in the middle of everything,” said his friend, Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., who serves with him on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s subcommittee on Africa.
Coons, a Delaware Democrat, is a one-time college Republican who has made a point of building relationships across the aisle, through travel, prayer meetings and work on legislation.
“We’ve been through a lot,” Flake, R-Ariz., said, describing the trust he’s developed with Coons, while speaking with him at a forum on Monday.
Along with serving on Judiciary, the two have traveled together as members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s subcommittee on Africa, which led to their close call in an open-back Jeep with the charging elephants.
“That’s how compromises are possible. And there’s less and less of that going on,” Flake said.
The two senators may have had different takes on the FBI report on Thursday, but Coons said he can live with that.
“Senators are now in a better position to reach conclusions than they were a week ago,” Coons told reporters. “And I think we demonstrated that through a relationship built on travel and bipartisanship and legislating, you could accomplish at least that much.”
There’s a reason why Coons seems to speak Republican: “I would say it’s my mother tongue,” he joked during an interview in his office with USA TODAY.
Coons once described himself, during his early years at Amherst College, as “sort of an Alex P. Keaton,” the fictional, Ronald Reagan-loving teenager from the 1980s sitcom “Family Ties.”
“George Will was one of my heroes when I was an undergraduate,” he said.
His political conversion came after he grew disillusioned with U.S. policy in South Africa and was exposed to extreme poverty while studying in Kenya. Within a year of founding a college Republican group, he was arguing the Democratic side in a debate and setting a new life course.
After Amherst, Coons volunteered for relief efforts in South Africa and later advocated for the homeless while at Yale University, where he graduated in 1992 with both ethics and law degrees.
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Source: USA Today