Emphasizing Bipartisanship

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Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Joe Donnelly


Joe's focus was getting things done for Hoosiers by working in a bipartisan manner. He was recognized as one of the most bipartisan Senators during his 6 year term. According to The Lugar Center and McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University, Joe was the second-most bipartisan U.S. Senator in 2015 and the fourth-most bipartisan member of Congress in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Previously, Joe was recognized for being the fourth-most bipartisan U.S. Senator and the most bipartisan Democrat from 1993-2014. 


Joe’s bipartisan legislative efforts have included:

Ending the 2013 Federal Government Shutdown

Joe was among the bipartisan group of Senators that included seven Republicans, five other Democrats, and an Independent senator who put together a framework that ended the October 2013 federal government shutdown. Joe worked with the bipartisan coalition to forge an agreement to reopen the government.

The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act 

Joe partnered with then-Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) to introduce legislation that would address prescription pain medication abuse and heroin use as part of their ongoing efforts to tackle the nation’s growing drug abuse epidemics. Several of Joe’s provisions, — adopted from his bipartisan legislation with Ayotte — were signed into law in July 2016 as part of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), bipartisan legislation that seeks to address the opioid abuse and heroin use epidemics. These provisions will update best prescribing practices and raise public awareness, along with a bipartisan provision Joe authored that would encourage first responder units to connect individuals who receive naloxone with treatment and other necessary services. In addition, CARA includes provisions to strengthen prevention efforts and expand access to treatment and recovery services.

Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act

Joe partnered with Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS) to introduce the Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act. The Sexton Act, which was the first bill that Joe introduced as a U.S. Senator, was signed into law in December 2014 and requires an annual mental assessment for all servicemembers — Active, Reserve, and Guard. 

Suspending the Medical Device Tax

Joe worked with a bipartisan group of Senators to help pass a two-year suspension of the medical device tax, which was signed into law in December 2015. As a longtime supporter of bipartisan efforts to repeal the medical device tax, Joe partnered with Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) to introduce legislation that would eliminate the device tax.

The “Servicemember and Veterans Mental Health Care Package"

Joe partnered with Senators Wicker (R-MS), Joni Ernst (R-IA), and John Boozman (R-AR) to introduce a series of three bipartisan bills knows as the Servicemember and Veteran Mental Health Care Package ("Care Package"). The “Care Package” builds upon the Jacob Sexton Act, to ensure that our servicemembers have access to quality mental health care, whether they seek private sector care through specially-trained community mental health providers or through the Department of Defense. Provisions of Joe's "Care Package" were signed into law as part of the National Defense Authorization Act by President Obama in November 2015 and December 2016. 

National Desert Storm and Desert Shield Memorial

Joe partnered with Senator John Boozman (R-AR) to introduced legislation to authorize a Gulf War Memorial that was signed into law in December 2014 as part of the national defense bill. The legislation helped pave the way for the National Desert Storm War Memorial Association to move forward with the construction of the first official Gulf War Memorial in our nation’s capital.

Improving the Waters of the United States Rule

Joe partnered with Senator Barrasso (R-WY) to lead a bipartisan group of Senators, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in introducing the Federal Water Quality Protection Act that would strike a reasonable, bipartisan compromise, offer commonsense principles needed to shape a final Waters of the United States rule, and require straightforward procedures that the EPA would need to follow. Joe has continued to push for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Army Corps of Engineers to rewrite the WOTUS rule with input from the people who live and work on the land every day.

Improving the Affordable Care Act: Forty Hours is Full Time Act

Joe partnered with Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Joe Manchin (D-WV) to introduce the Forty Hours is Full Time Act. The Affordable Care Act currently defines full-time work as 30 hours per week, and their bipartisan legislation would change the definition of a full-time employee under the health care law to someone who works an average of 40 hours. 



In the News

Tribune Star Column: Indiana’s Donnelly part of ‘The Middle’ that got deal done (October 2013)

By: Mark Bennett

Hanging out in the middle isn’t cool.

Its occupants don’t attract a captivated circle of listeners at parties, their comments don’t inspire hell-yeahs on Facebook, and they don’t pretend to always be right.

But they get things done. As the loud talkers and lion-sized egos carry on, folks in the middle quietly roll up their sleeves and get things done.

It took a group of 14 senators — all but one, Arizona’s John McCain, with little national name recognition — to steer the dysfunctional, messed-up Congress away from putting America on a collision course with an economically catastrophic government default. The coalition of seven Republicans, six Democrats and one independent met numerous times since Oct. 1, when a cluster of tea-partiers in the U.S. House forced a federal government shutdown and the possibility of a first-ever default on the nation’s bills over their demands to defund or repeal President Obama’s already enacted Affordable Care Act.

While others made noise, those 14 senators kept meeting … in the middle.

Finally, just hours before the deadline, the Senate leaders reached a deal to reopen the government and prevent a fiscal default, which economists widely warned would cause long-term damage to America’s economy and world credit ratings. The deal is temporary, less than perfect and irritating to those on the political extremes. It was necessary and the right thing to do, though. Their eventual budget deal featured most of the compromises reached on middle ground by those 14 senators. It funds the government until Jan. 15 and raises the debt ceiling until Feb. 7. It sets a Dec. 13 deadline for House and Senate panels to structure a long-term tax and spending plan.

After a couple of Hoosier members of the House tea party contingent uttered strange comments that became late night talk show punchlines in the past two weeks, it was refreshing to see a different Indiana congressman, Sen. Joe Donnelly, among those 14 lawmakers involved in those behind-the-scenes, bipartisan talks. Like other participants, Donnelly, a centrist Democrat and a freshman senator, had to compromise. He favored a repeal of the medical device tax in the health care act, which wasn’t included in the final deal, but got assurances the issue would be revisited in the December budget negotiations. Some wanted those December, January and February deadlines set earlier or later. The discussions were difficult, Donnelly said in a conference call Wednesday, and required pragmatism.

The sessions — conducted in the office of Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine — were not a forum for grandstanding in the style of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who led like-minded, hard-right conservatives in the House into the shutdown standoff.

“The easiest thing in the world is to be the loudest person in the Senate, the loudest person in the House, the person getting the most attention. But that doesn’t get anything done,” Donnelly told the media. “What gets things done is the relationships you have to work together to make our nation stronger. And you had 14 people in a room who trusted one another, who knew they could trust each other’s word, and who knew that their only goals were to try to make this nation stronger.”

The loose coalition included Collins and fellow Republican senators Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Jeff Flake and McCain of Arizona, Mike Johanns of Nebraska, Mark Kirk of Illinois and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, along with Democrats Donnelly, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire. Maine’s Angus King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, rounded out the group.

“The dynamics were, everybody basically left their political label at the door and worked non-stop,” Donnelly said. “It was negotiation where a number of people had different positions. Nobody got 100 percent of what they want, but the goal was to make sure our nation was protected.”

Another dynamic worth noting is that six — almost half — of those 14 negotiators were women. Only 20 members of the entire, 100-member Senate are women, though they constitute 50.8 percent of the U.S. population.

Donnelly said there are “no guarantees” the push-it-to-the-brink-over-Obamacare situation won’t arise again as the new, temporary deadlines approach. He’s “hopeful that cooler, wiser, more moderate heads will take a look at this and say, ‘Look, let’s create [economic] confidence. Let’s create jobs. Let’s create opportunity.”

Let’s hope the wiser, quieter voices remain right in the middle of the situation.

Indy Star Column: Joe Donnelly tries to 'hit it straight down the middle' (October 2013)

By: Matt Tully 

All the opinion polls say the same thing: Americans are incredibly, painfully and justifiably frustrated with Congress. The dysfunction and gridlock that has always been a part of the D.C. story is now the lead story, and that largely explains Congress’ single-digit approval ratings.

Although things haven’t gotten any better since the 2012 elections, the good news is that the past 12 months have made clear that Indiana got it right when it elected Sen. Joe Donnelly as its junior senator.

If you’re fed up with Washington’s mess, that’s understandable. If you think Congress is one of the nation’s biggest sources of trouble, you’re in the majority. But Joe Donnelly, it should be noted, isn’t part of the problem.

When the government shutdown hit, Donnelly was one of 14 senators who went to work at finding a reasonable middle-ground solution — a monumental undertaking in this political era. When some of us called for sweeping gun restrictions after the latest mass shooting, Donnelly supported expanded background checks but continued to oppose a long list of harsher gun controls. He pleased many in his party when he reversed his opposition to gay marriage this year, but he disappointed others by voting to support the Keystone XL pipeline plan. He supported a Senate immigration bill that left both the far left and the far right wanting more but that pursued a sensible, workable fix.

Yes, Donnelly is a Democrat and votes most often with his party. (I need to acknowledge that fact of life before my email and voice mail light up.) But he fits nicely in a chamber whose numbers require a heavy dose moderation for anything to pass, and more important he is a constant voice in support of bipartisanship and pragmatism at times when such traits are too often shouted down.

“Our success as a country, and a state, is directly related to issues like jobs and education and safe neighborhoods,” he said. “We’re not successful unless we are improving those things. That’s why the sideshow is so pointless. There’s all this screaming and yelling when we should be focused on our kids and their schools and their futures.”

Donnelly likes to say that voters sent him to Washington to “get things done.” And while that might sound like a cliche, it’s actually true in his case. Indiana voters, including many Republicans, reacted adversely to the anti-compromise mantra of his 2012 opponent, Richard Mourdock, and gave Democrats a seat few expected the party would be able to win.

“Indiana voters said very clearly and very decisively that we expect you to go there as our senator, to represent us and not to play party politics,” Donnelly said.

As we talked last week, the first-year senator said his work in the group of 14 Senate moderates, which advocated for a bipartisan and balanced deal to end the shutdown, one that would pave the wave for long-term budget talks, “showed that party had nothing to do with” his thinking. To conservative critics who say he supports his party too blindly, he said: “I don’t know what else I can do but continue to hit it straight down the middle.”

In politics these days, it’s easy to worry that the sensible middle ground is being increasingly overshadowed by partisan warriors such as Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. But Donnelly’s election was a reminder than many voters appreciate those who try to tackle issues without overheated rhetoric aimed at pleasing one fringe cable TV news channel or another. His style is a reminder that the best lawmakers are often those who come from districts and states whose partisan demographics force them to think about the other’s side’s point of view.

To understand Donnelly all you have to do is look at his reaction to the federal health care legislation championed by President Obama. He voted for the plan and defends its chief tenets, those that protect patients. But unlike some Democrats he talks openly and strongly about its flaws. He has pushed to repeal the law’s new tax on medical devices, for instance, and says it should label full-time workers those who work 40 hours a week, and not 30.

“The whole discussion has been so poisoned by folks on one side saying it’s perfect and folks on the other side saying it is the worst thing ever created and must be fully repealed,” he said. “I’m really frustrated with what’s gone on with the rollout. But as things come up, let’s fix them. Let’s make the law better.”

That’s not a great message if you want to fire up the base or get a consistent spot on a cable TV shoutfest. It’s not likely to spark a flood of campaign contributions, as have the histrionics of Sen. Cruz. But it might just help improve some of the problems facing this country.

“We have to come to a place as a country where we can look at each other and talk about our differences and not impugn each others’ motives,” Donnelly said. “Great things are not accomplished by screaming at each other.”

To explain how they are accomplished, and how big problems are solved, Donnelly referred to the wisdom of his late father, a man who spent years running his own business.

“My dad’s solution to everything was: just go to work,” he said. “That’s what we need to do.”

Indy Star Column: Tully: Sen. Joe Donnelly — Indiana’s man in the middle (December 2014)

By: Matt Tully

His party is about to be tossed from power in the U.S. Senate, the result of a brutal election year for Democrats, but Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana smiled over a plate of eggs Friday morning and said that, for him, life in the minority offers quite an opportunity.

Why? Because the rules in the glacially paced Senate often require not a majority of votes, but 60 votes, for anything to move. So while Republican’s 54-seat majority might have the Fox News crowd all giddy, it won’t mean a lot without crossover votes from moderates like Donnelly.

“They are going to have to have at least six Democrats on everything,” Donnelly said as we talked at the City Cafe Downtown. “So I think I’m in a great position — in the middle.”

Shortly after the November elections, Donnelly said he approached Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the incoming majority leader, and told him that, “I am here to help you get things done.”

To be more specific, the lawmaker from Northern Indiana told me that this is what that means: “On the crazy stuff here or there, on either side, I’ll pass. But on the jobs stuff, on the common sense stuff, on the stuff we should all be able to agree is good for the country, I’ll be there. I just want to get things done.”

Now before my conservative friends fill my inbox with outrage at calling anyone to the left of Ted Cruz a moderate, let me be clear: Like other moderates, Donnelly votes most often with his own party. That’s not a sin (though some will disagree), and it doesn’t disqualify him from moderate status. Just as it didn’t disqualify his Republican predecessor, Richard Lugar.

Donnelly is a gun rights supporter, and he votes more like a conservative Republican on abortion issues. He’s a fiscal conservative in many ways, and he’s certainly no great environmentalist. But beyond the wedge issues, the true spirit of a moderate is about something deeper. It’s about a willingness to work with the other side to get things done and to accept the reality that compromise is usually the answer.

Lugar believed that and Donnelly, elected in 2012, believes that. And it would be nice if more lawmakers in Washington believed that; if they did, perhaps Congress’ approval ratings wouldn’t be as paltry as its list of recent accomplishments.

Of course, it’s easier to be a moderate when the politics of your state demand it. Politicians such as Evan Bayh and Joe Donnelly can win statewide; Elizabeth Warren could not. So Donnelly’s stance is both appreciated and a requirement of the job.

“For me, it’s about being in the position Hoosiers elected me to be in,” he said. “It’s about being in the middle and going (to Washington) and trying to support common sense, and not to worry about the parties.”

And, so, in what many have labeled one of the least productive congressional sessions in history, Donnelly ended the 2014 session with a significant first-term legislative victory. It’s significant because it could help a lot of people and because of what it symbolizes.

The legislation is named after an Indiana National Guard member named Jacob Sexton, a 21-year-old who committed suicide in Muncie in 2009. It seeks to give soldiers and veterans more support and encouragement in their darkest days and to proactively identify looming crises. It comes amid a flurry of reports detailing a disturbing and heartbreaking increase in suicides among service members current and former.

The bill will require mental health assessments each year for those in the service, and it calls for a federal report that will examine existing programs to see if they are working and, likely, to suggest new ones. It seeks to erase the unfair stigma that so often is tied to the decision to seek counseling.

“What has to happen,” Donnelly said, “is we have to show (service members and veterans) that this is not a sign of weakness. Part of the focus here is to make them know that there is nothing wrong with talking to someone.”

Not to get carried away, but the legislation’s success is a sign that, even in Washington and even in this toxic political era, things can get done. To get this done, Donnelly teamed up with a Republican, Roger Wicker of Mississippi. And he worked methodically to build support from a vast array of sources: military and health organizations, Democrats and Republicans, and veterans and family members of those serving.

“It was done the classic way things should be done out there,” Donnelly said. “With my Republican friend and I sitting down saying, ‘let’s get this done.’”

When portions of the original bill were spiked by more senior senators, Donnelly said he had a choice to make: He could either compromise and get most of what he wanted or let his legislation die out of political stubbornness, as many other bills have.

He chose compromise. It was a wise choice.

“That culture has been gone for a long time,” he said. “We’ve been in this period where people in Washington say they have to get everything they want or they are going to hold a press conference and stomp their feet up and down.”

That’s indeed been the way of Washington of late, but it’s gotten the country nowhere. And it’s a reminder of why Indiana was smart two years ago to send Joe Donnelly to the Senate.

Indy Star Column: Joe Donnelly’s middle seat gets a little hotter (September 2015)

By: Matt Tully

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Donald Trump stood in front of the U.S. Capitol with Republican Sen. Ted Cruz one afternoon last week and railed against the “very, very stupid people” leading the nation. Inside the Capitol, top Democrats blasted Republicans for being driven so weakly by such “voices on the hard right.” And inside the Senate chambers, lawmakers debating a nuclear deal with Iran bickered for several minutes simply over how to divide floor time.

In other words, it was a typical day in D.C.

Two parties, two worlds apart. Capitol Hill newspapers warned of yet another potential government shutdown, and on the Senate floor it appeared that Democrats and Republicans were debating completely different treaties. Washington is not filled with stupid people, as Trump argues, but it remains a deeply divided and partisan mess.

And then there’s Joe Donnelly.

Indiana’s junior senator has taken more heat than usual this summer, from both the left and the right. The first-term Democrat lost a top political ally in early August after bucking his party on a Planned Parenthood funding vote, and then attracted a flood of critical TV ads later in the month after siding with his party on the Iran treaty. But as he sat in his Capitol Hill office Thursday morning, a few hours before delivering his floor speech on the Iran deal, Donnelly didn’t seem the least bit worried about the political heat.

“I wasn’t sent here to worry about TV ads,” he said. “I wasn’t sent here to worry about whether a certain vote was going to cause me political heartburn. I was sent here to do what’s best for Hoosiers. That’s the lens I have to look through.”

Donnelly, 59, has made such statements so often he could copyright them. But it is true that his has been anything but an ideologically rigid lens. During his time in Washington he has attracted stellar ratings from the NRA and anti-abortion groups, while also voting for the federal health care law and, as of 2013, endorsing same-sex marriage. He’s popular with the Democratic labor base but not at all with its environmental wing, and he continues to represent an ever-shrinking group of congressional lawmakers in the middle. He was the only senator, for instance, to vote in recent weeks against federal funding for Planned Parenthood and in favor the Iran nuclear deal.

Therein lies Donnelly’s importance. You don’t have to agree with all of his positions — I certainly don’t — to understand the value in these ridiculously partisan days of a politician whose base of operation is in the middle, and who remains calm surrounded by the madness of politics circa 2015.

“I just keep my head down and work,” he said. “I’m not a screamer. I just love to do stuff.”

Later on Thursday, Donnelly talked about the recent debate over new federal emissions standards. If you want to understand his role in Washington, this issue helps. On one side of the debate is the Obama administration, which has proposed cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2030. On the other side are critics such as Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who not only opposed the standards but promised to ignore them.

And then there’s Joe Donnelly.

The governor “could have been more constructive,” Donnelly said, adding that Pence’s defiant words followed the state’s “nonsensical” decision to eliminate a popular energy efficiency program. But the Obama administration, he noted, polluted the effort by dramatically increasing Indiana’s mandated emissions cuts late in the process.

“We should all try to work together as much as we can to move the ball forward,” he said. “We are so much better when we work together. We could have hit that (initial) number, but it seemed like some people wanted to put things sideways for political reasons.”

As I wandered Capitol Hill last week I bumped into an old friend who has covered the Senate for years and asked for his take on Donnelly. His response was telling: He said he hadn’t heard much about him but that he seemed to fit his state quite well. That fit is probably due not only to a moderate voting record but also to a calm demeanor and Donnelly’s lucky break of sounding and looking as much like a steelworker as a senator.

Donnelly grew up in New York, raised by his father alone after his mother died when he was 10. He laughed, as he often does, when he told me he and siblings didn’t misbehave because their father “said he would kill us” if they did. Donnelly moved to Indiana at 18 to attend the University of Notre Dame and never left. He worked as a lawyer in South Bend, started his own business and ran unsuccessfully for a trio of offices over the years before winning a U.S. House seat in 2006.

He won his Senate seat with barely 50 percent of the vote in 2012, helped by the disastrous far-right candidacy of Republican nominee Richard Mourdock. Now in his third year in the Senate, Donnelly has clung tightly to the workmanlike, everyman image that has helped him win every political race he’s run.

He says things like “I work for you,” as he did to a group of farmers visiting his office Thursday morning, and “I’m just focused on what’s best for the country,” as he told a Capitol Hill reporter he brushed off that afternoon. At one point, he spent several minutes trying to find a Capitol police officer who could unlock a door so a veteran in a wheelchair could get a picture from a balcony overlooking the Supreme Court. He thanked the retiree for his service before saying goodbye.

It’d be easy to chalk Donnelly’s positions and persona up to political pragmatism. After all, if he can be portrayed as being within a mile of liberal, or as an entrenched creature of Washington, he likely loses reelection in Republican-leaning Indiana in 2018.

That helps explain why his office put out a press release last year after National Journal ranked him as the “52nd most liberal senator” — in a chamber that had 53 Democrats. And it explains the message he said he will take to voters: “I don’t work for anybody but you.”

Politics being politics, of course, it’s easy to wonder how much is real and how much is political strategy. In the emissions debate, for instance, Donnelly criticized both the left and the right and called for common ground, but in the end he took the relatively painless step of opposing an emissions rule that was unpopular back home.

And, really, can anyone serving in the U.S. Senate just be an average guy, or is politics just one big stage? There’s a great line in the book “This Town” that says D.C. “leads people to behave in exaggerated versions of who they really are,” and political survival often mandates that. We all have our acts, right? So while those close to Donnelly insist he is the same guy in private that he is in public — and that seems to be true — he clearly understands the benefit of not going Washington.

I remember, for example, having breakfast with the senator in late 2013 and watching as our server brought out a box filled with several varieties of tea. Donnelly laughed at the grandiose display as if overwhelmed and said, “I know Lipton.” A year later, at the same restaurant and after once again ordering tea, he used the same line.

But nearly 10 years into his congressional career, it’s getting harder and harder for his rivals to make the case that he is a phony partisan in hiding; or that a guy who comes home to Indiana almost every weekend, years ahead of his next campaign, is a creature of Washington; or that a senator who talks incessantly about bipartisanship, and who has pushed bipartisan efforts to address military suicides and drug addiction, doesn’t really believe in common ground. If anything, the criticism he has received in recent weeks has reinforced his independent image.

Planned Parenthood of Indiana President Betty Cockrum criticized Donnelly for being one of only two Senate Democrats who voted to defund the organization following the release of undercover recordings about its handling of fetal tissue for medical research. She said his vote “would lead to more STDs and more unintended pregnancies,” while former Indiana lieutenant governor Kathy Davis resigned as Donnelly’s campaign treasurer in protest of the vote.

That stung, the senator acknowledged, but “I try to do what I think is right. I did it because, look, I’d seen the videos.”

Meantime, a conservative political organization has spent heavily on TV ads accusing Donnelly of choosing party loyalty over national security because of his vote on the Iran treaty. The ads come across as empty to anyone who has spent even five minutes looking at Donnelly’s voting record. Still, heavy spending and sharp words can do political damage.

“I know my decision had nothing to do with party lines,” Donnelly said, noting that he discussed the treaty with President Obama at the White House but spent much more time meeting with military and intelligence officials, foreign embassy representatives and national security experts such as former Sen. Richard Lugar and former Rep. Lee Hamilton.

“I was really torn,” he said. “This is not about trusting Iran. I don’t trust them.”

As we walked through the Capitol later, Donnelly bumped into Rep. Marlin Stutzman, an Indiana Republican who is running for the Senate seat now held by retiring Sen. Dan Coats. In his travels throughout Indiana, Stutzman said, he has encountered fierce opposition to the Iran deal.

“I hear a lot about Donnelly,” he said. “People are very disappointed. They were really happy with his Planned Parenthood vote, but not this one.”

For his part, Donnelly said it is critical that senators explain themselves after taking tough positions. At home and in Washington. And, so, he gathered a pair of aides and a folder carrying his speech on the treaty at about 1 p.m. Thursday and headed for the Senate floor. For the first time all day, he walked quietly. After we boarded an elevator I asked for his thoughts.

“I feel it’s the most important speech I’ve given,” he told me. “This is really about determining what is going to happen with our military, what is going to happen in the Mideast, what going to happen in a region that been so troubled for so long. There is really a feeling of obligation.”

His floor speech laid out his case: This isn’t a perfect deal, and Iran cannot be trusted. But its adherence to the agreement can be verified and its ability to control a nuclear weapon in the coming decade and a half will be severely diminished. Its nuclear efforts not only stop moving forward but actually move backward. International cooperation against Iran will be strengthened, and the alternative is “much more dangerous to our country and to Israel.”

An hour later, Donnelly was back in his office talking with an Indianapolis family that had come to Washington as part of a home-school experience. The group talked about development in Downtown Indianapolis, the Iran debate, the upcoming Colts season, and the need for more bipartisanship in Washington. Then the senator walked the family from his office to the Capitol, where an aide was scheduled to give a tour.

As they rode on the Capitol subway system, the mom of the family asked, almost in a whisper, “Do you think Israel will be safe?”

“I do,” Donnelly said. “I really do.”

Plenty of people disagree, just as many others disagreed with his vote on Planned Parenthood funding. Come 2018, Donnelly will have to defend those positions, and many others. What he likely won’t have to do is work very hard to convince people that amid all the fighting between the left and the right in Washington, he’s stuck pretty close to the middle.

NWI Times Column: Donnelly offers wisdom on bipartisanship (October 2015)

By: Doug Ross

Sen. Joe Donnelly said a lot of complimentary things about Northwest Indiana last week and had a few choice words about Washington, D.C.

“We’ve built the infrastructure. It’s in place. By being next to one of the greatest cities in the world, it’s a sweet spot,” Donnelly said at One Region’s annual meeting last Thursday.

Donnelly, who was critical of Indiana’s road and bridge conditions, noted Northwest Indiana’s proximity as a key to its success.

“You put a circle around the region here, and within 300 miles, there’s more people than anywhere else in the United States. So you want to locate your business here,” he said.

Donnelly represented the 2nd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives before he ran for Senate. That district included LaPorte County. Then the Indiana General Assembly changed the district boundaries following the 2010 Census to make Donnelly’s district more Republican.

“I told the state Legislature if I can’t represent LaPorte County in the House, I’ll represent LaPorte County in the Senate,” Donnelly said.

That sounds like a true Democrat. It set up a later point he made about the struggle to anoint a new Speaker of the House.

“There’s a lot more wisdom in Northwest Indiana than in Washington, D.C.,” he said.

He urged bipartisanship here and in the federal government.

“We weren’t hired to help our party. We were hired to do what’s right for the United States of America,” he said.

That sound bite resonates, but what’s he like when he gets back to Capitol Hill? A lot of our elected federal representatives say one thing in the district and another on Capitol Hill. Does Donnelly put that bipartisan rhetoric in practice?

In a word, yes.

Donnelly is a strong supporter of veterans. He has done oral histories for the Veterans History Project, just as I have done. I know how much time goes into it. And he does them personally; he doesn’t just assign a staffer to do it.

He also has been pushing for years to reduce the number of military suicides. That’s one of the best ways to help veterans I can think of.

The National Defense Appropriation Act was a typical partisan fight last week. Republicans added $38 billion more than permitted under the 2011 budget sequestration caps by reclassifying ordinary military spending as emergency overseas contingency funding.

U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Ind., sits on the Defense Appropriations subcommittee and expresses anguish over the broken federal budget process because it continues spending without a serious review of what’s needed, rather than what has been going on for years.

President Barack Obama threatened to veto the military budget this year, setting it up for a typical partisan vote in the Senate. Donnelly sided with the Republicans, rather than the Senate Democrats and the Democratic president, because the Republican legislation included his mission to reduce the number of military suicides.

So to those who wondered whether Donnelly practices what he preaches when it comes to bipartisanship, there’s your answer.

NWI Times: Donnelly rated among most bipartisan U.S. senators since '93 (January 2016)

By: Dan Carden

INDIANAPOLIS | U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., is the fourth-most bipartisan senator to serve over the past two decades and the Democrat most willing to work across party lines, according to an analysis from a think tank led by former U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar.

The Lugar Center recently expanded its Bipartisan Index to rate U.S. senators based on how often legislation they sponsored from 1993-2014 attracted co-sponsors from the other political party, and whether a senator co-sponsored measures proposed by someone not of his or her party.

Former U.S. Sen. Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I., who briefly ran for the Democratic presidential nomination, topped the index as the most bipartisan senator. He was followed by U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, both of Maine.

Donnelly, who is in the fourth year of his first term, came in fourth out of the 227 senators who have served in the 100-member chamber since 1993.

"My responsibility is to do what is right for Hoosiers no matter which party an idea may come from," Donnelly said.

"I believe we are stronger and more effective when we work together, and when we prioritize bipartisan efforts we can get things done that will help Indiana and our country."

The namesake of the Lugar Center placed 24th for bipartisanship, just ahead of former Connecticut U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, the 2000 Democratic vice presidential nominee.

Lugar represented Indiana in the Senate from 1977 to 2013. He said he believes the nonpartisan analysis "illustrates the changing nature of the Congress" and explains in part "why it has become so dysfunctional in recent years.

"But it also shows that some lawmakers with strong ideological views can nonetheless find common ground with members of the other party," Lugar said.

Of the two senators who also represented Indiana since 1993: Democrat Evan Bayh rated 61st on the Bipartisan Index; Republican Dan Coats placed 214th for his work during two nonconsecutive six-year terms.

Two Republicans from Illinois were among the most willing to work with Senate Democrats. Incumbent U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk and former U.S. Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (1999-2005) were rated 18th and 22nd, respectively.

Former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, D-Ill., (1993-1999) was the highest-rated Illinois Democratic senator at 93.

She was followed by Paul Simon (1985-97) at 120; Dick Durbin (1997-present) at 126; Barack Obama (2005-08) at 165; and Roland Burris (2009-10) at 221.

The Lugar Center determined the least bipartisan senator over the past two decades was former U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C.

DeMint quit Congress in 2013 to become president of the Heritage Foundation, a leading conservative think tank.

His replacement, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., was the second-least bipartisan senator, followed by U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

Former U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., scored highest (156) for bipartisanship among current and former Democratic senators still running for president this year. At 217, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders was the third-least likely Democrat to work with Republicans.

The Republican presidential candidate most willing to cross party lines was U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., in 122nd place.

He was followed by former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., at 145; U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., at 170; U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., at 222; and Cruz at 224.

Edward Montgomery, dean of the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University, which co-sponsors the Bipartisan Index, said he hopes it reminds lawmakers that conservative or progressive ideologies shouldn't be a deterrent to political cooperation.

"Our society faces significant challenges both domestically and abroad," Montgomery said. "Now, more than ever, we need our lawmakers to work together to get things done."

Indy Star Column: Fighting for the lost art of bipartisanship (March 2016)

By: Matt Tully

Sen. Joe Donnelly was talking a few weeks back about his bipartisan record in Washington when I tossed out a question: Do voters ever come up to you, I asked, and thank you for being so darn bipartisan?

The state’s junior senator laughed and said, no, that’s not a common compliment he receives these days. Not at a time when voters seem more inclined to pat politicians on the back for vilifying those on the other side, as opposed to working with them. Not at a time when presidential candidates are taking it on the chin for any sign that they haven’t been ideological robots.

But, Donnelly insisted, there’s actually a more important question: “Do you want to get things done? Do you want a country that still moves forward?”

If you do, the only way to get there is by acknowledging that the other side isn’t going away and then trying to find a way to work together. Demanding that everything go your way might feel good but in a politically divided country it’s a loser’s play. It’s also important to remember, Donnelly said, that so many issues facing the country aren’t partisan in nature, although they often get tangled up in extraneous partisan divisions.

I know, working together sounds crazy. What am I writing, fantasy fiction? But it’s neither. It’s pretty simple stuff, actually. And it leads us to a third question: How do we get to a place where politicians are rewarded, at least by some significant faction of the voting public, for working together?

It won’t be easy.

But at least someone is trying. It’s not the least bit surprising that the someone is former U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar, the Republican from Indiana whose post-Senate career has included the launch of “the bipartisan index,” an annual report from The Lugar Center that uses data on bill sponsorships and co-sponsorships to give a glimpse into how often members of Congress work with colleagues on the other side of the aisle.

The latest version of the report came out this week, showing Donnelly, a Democrat, as the second-most bipartisan-minded member of the Senate. That won’t be enough for some; I still get laughable emails from critics every time I write about Donnelly telling me what a wild-eyed liberal he is. But I suggest taking The Lugar Center’s report seriously.

The center calls the report a counterweight to the “innumerable studies, rankings, and indexes that grade members according to a partisan, parochial, or special-interest standard.” That’s the best thing about it. And in a more perfect Washington, more members would worry more about their bipartisan index rating that those they receive from unbending special interest groups that demand all-or-nothing purity on issues ranging from gun policies and taxes, to so many strictly conservative or liberal causes.

U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks stopped to chat with me at the South Bend Chocolate Company on Wednesday in Downtown, just hours after the release of the latest bipartisan index. As we talked, I mentioned that among the 435 members of the House she ranked in the index’s top 10 percent — number 35, to be exact. Then I asked whether such a ranking was a political help or a headache in these hyperpartisan times.

She reminded me that she ran on a message of working collaboratively with Democrats and Republicans during a heated and crowded Republican primary in 2012; that message ultimately helped her win by a whopping 1 percentage point. She is a conservative but said that this is about pragmatism.

“Working across the aisle is something that is just necessary under our system,” the Carmel Republican said. “In order for a bill to get passed you have to ensure Democrats in the Senate don’t block it. So we have actively ensured that we have a Democratic co-lead on our bills, because I am not going to be able to be in the Democratic caucus meetings making the case.”

It’s easy to fire up the partisan faithful with a message centered on obstruction and a refusal to compromise. That’s won many a primary in recent years. And there is value is strong ideological-minded debates, in a battle of ideas. As even the founding statement of the Lugar Center’s bipartisan index says, there is value in partisan legislation and there is no guarantee that “all bipartisan bills are wisely written and considered.” But debates should be about finding a workable middle ground on critical issues.

Brooks talked about the heroin and opioid legislation she and Donnelly have worked on in recent months. It’s a reminder that many issues have no basis in partisanship and that those who are willing to work across the aisle can actually make progress on matters of huge consequence. A bipartisan effort on that legislation, she said, “only helps move it forward.”

The bipartisan index isn’t perfect — no such report is. It wisely looks at the legislation members work on and put their names on but some rankings raise questions (Rep. Luke Messer is a strong conservative but more open to consensus-building than his relatively low rating would suggest). Still, the report seems directionally appropriate and, more important, it rewards members for reaching out.

U.S. Rep. Marlin Stutzman, an Indiana Republican who is now running for Senate on a message that he is a uniquely strict conservative, ranked second-to-lowest in the House on the bipartisan index. In a Republican primary and in the current political environment, though, I’m not sure that hurts him.

Let’s hope we will someday return to a time when lawmakers get pats on the back not for avoiding those on the other side of the aisle but for choosing to work with them. If you are a fan of progress, that’s the only path forward.

U.S. Senate, out of 100 members:

Joe Donnelly, (Democrat): 2.

Dan Coats, (Republican): 75

U.S. House. out of 438 members and non-voting delegates:

Peter Visclosky (D-1st): 267

Jackie Walorski (R-2nd): 210

Marlin Stutzman (R-3rd): 435

Todd Rokita (R-4th): 246

Susan Brooks: (R-5th): 35

Luke Messer (R-6th): 316

Andre Carson (D-7th): 351

Larry Bucshon (R-8th): 288

Todd Young (R-9th): 138

Indy Star: Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly 2nd-most bipartisan senator since 1993, study says (December 2017)

By: Andrew Clark

Sen. Joe Donnelly,  D-Ind., is the second-most bipartisan senator who has served in congress since 1993, according to a Georgetown University study.

The study, from the university's McCourt School of Public Policy and Richard G. Lugar Center, shows that only Lincoln Chafee, a former Republican senator and governor of Rhode Island, was more bipartisan during his Senate tenure than Donnelly has been. Chafee was a Republican until he switched to the Democratic Party in 2007, running as a Democratic presidential candidate in 2016. 

The study also says Donnelly was the second-most bipartisan senator of the 114th Congress, behind only Susan Collins, R-Maine. Collins is considered a moderate Republican; she holds a liberal stance on abortion but a conservative stance on most other social issues. She voted in favor of the Republican tax reform bill Dec. 3.

Donnelly was targeted as a Democrat who could have been convinced to support the Republican tax reform bill that passed the Senate Dec. 3. Donnelly ended up voting against the bill, saying it kept a tax loophole that would "mean many Hoosier workers pay a higher tax rate than Wall Street hedge fund managers."

Donnelly's Senate seat is up for grabs in November 2018, and it is a hotly contested race. Republicans Luke Messer and Todd Rokita are vying to challenge Donnelly, who will run for a second term, for his seat. 

The Center for Effective Lawmaking in August also called Donnelly the least effective Democrat in the Senate. 

The Lugar Center study aims to quantify congressional members' bipartisan behavior, and bases its rankings off bill sponsorship and co-sponsorship. So a congressperson who introduces bills with more bipartisan sponsors would rank as more bipartisan. And similarly, if a congressperson co-sponsors a bill created by a congressperson from a different party, that person would again rank as more bipartisan.

Here's where other Indiana senators ranked on the list:

  • Richard Lugar (R) — 26

  • Evan Bayh (D) — 66

  • Dan Coats (R) — 228

You can view the study and methodology in its entirety here.

Fort Wayne Journal Gazette: Donnelly ranks 2nd on bipartisan list (December 2017)

Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., is the second most bipartisan U.S. senator of the past quarter century, according to the Lugar Center and Georgetown University's McCourt School of Public Policy.

Only Lincoln Chafee, a Republican senator from Rhode Island from 1999 through 2006, scored higher on the Lugar-McCourt Bipartisan Index, which rates 240 senators since 1993 on how well they work across political party lines.

The index measures the frequency with which a senator co-sponsors legislation introduced by the opposite party and the frequency with which a senator's own bills attract co-sponsors from the opposite party.

The nonprofit Lugar Center, a global issues think tank, is headed by Richard Lugar, a Republican senator from Indiana from 1976 through 2012. Donnelly, who is up for re-election next year, replaced Lugar in the Senate in 2013.

The index rates Lugar as the 26th most bipartisan senator since 1993. Former Indiana senator Evan Bayh, a Democrat, ranks 66th, and former senator Dan Coats, a Republican who is national intelligence director, ranks 228th.

The index ends with the 2016 session, so first-year Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., is not included.

The least bipartisan lawmaker on the list is Jim DeMint, a Republican senator from South Carolina from 2005 to 2012. 

The Lugar Center said in a news release the last three Congresses have been the most partisan of the 12 measured. According to the index, 17 of the 25 most partisan senators served in the 114th Congress in 2015-16, while only six of the 25 most bipartisan senators did.

NWI Times: Indiana's U.S. senators earn high marks for bipartisanship in Lugar Center analysis (May 2018)

By: Dan Carden

INDIANAPOLIS — The two U.S. senators representing Indiana are among the lawmakers most likely to work across party lines in Congress, according to a new analysis from a think tank led by former U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Ind.

The Lugar Center's Bipartisan Index rated U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., the fourth most bipartisan senator in 2017. U.S. Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., was ninth out of the 100 senators.

In contrast, Illinois' senators fared poorly for bipartisanship, with U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., coming in 84th, and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., at 91st.

The index, compiled in conjunction with the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University, measures bipartisanship by tallying how often a member of Congress files legislation that attracts co-sponsors from members of the other party, and how often they in turn co-sponsor measures introduced across the aisle.

"Members of Congress, from the most progressive to the most conservative can score well on the index if they dedicate themselves to seeking bipartisan support for their own legislation and give fair consideration to a variety of legislative initiatives," said Lugar, who represented the Hoosier State in the Senate for 36 years.

Indiana was the only state in the nation with both of its senators ranked in the top 10 for bipartisanship. Just two more states, West Virginia and Iowa, saw both of its senators place in the top 20.

High marks for bipartisanship are nothing new for Donnelly.

The Lugar Center previously determined that Donnelly was the second-most bipartisan senator during the 2015-16 Congress, and also rated as the second-most bipartisan senator out of the 240 who have served since 1993.

"I'm the hired help for Hoosiers, and my focus every day isn't on Democrat or Republican but on finding solutions and addressing issues important to Indiana," Donnelly said.

"That's how I have been successful in advancing and getting dozens of provisions signed into law on a range of issues, including to combat the opioid epidemic, improve mental health services for our law enforcement officers and honor our Vietnam veterans."

According to the Lugar index, Young has become more bipartisan since entering the Senate last year. Young rated 120th out of 435 U.S. House members for bipartisanship during the 2015-16 Congress.

Young also has been significantly more willing to work across party lines than his predecessor. Former U.S. Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., now the director of national intelligence, was 82nd for bipartisanship during the 114th Congress.

The two Congressmen vying for the Republican nomination to challenge Donnelly in the November election received significantly different bipartisanship scores on the latest Lugar index.

U.S. Rep. Luke Messer, R-Greensburg, rated 137th out of 435 House members for bipartisanship in 2017, well up from 309th place during the 2015-16 Congress.

Munster native U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita, R-Brownsburg, declined in last year's bipartisanship rankings to 350th. He was the 278th most bipartisan representative in the previous Congress.

Here's how the other Hoosier representatives placed on the 2017 bipartisanship index: Pete Visclosky, D-Gary, 65; Jackie Walorski, R-Elkhart, 84; Jim Banks, R-Columbia City, 377; Susan Brooks, R-Carmel, 44; Andre Carson, D-Indianapolis, 401; Larry Bucshon, R-Newburgh, 205; and Trey Hollingsworth, R-Jeffersonville, 238.