MONTEREY, Calif. (CN) – Far from the glare of the hyper partisan lenses of Washington D.C., two former senators of opposing parties found more common ground than acrimony in responding to a slate of questions regarding the contemporary state of America.
Kelly Ayotte, former Republican U.S. Senator from New Hampshire, and Chris Dodd, former Democratic Connecticut Senate member, seemed to revel in the relative calm waters of Monterey, California as they waxed collegial as part of Leon Panetta’s first installation of his annual lecture series held on Monday night.
Ayotte, who lost narrowly in New Hampshire in an election President Donald Trump claimed was marred by widespread voter fraud, said a bump stock ban and mandatory delays before the purchase of firearms were sound policy — a sharp break from her GOP colleagues.
While Ayotte refrained from confrontationally taking on Trump, she criticized his America First policy, saying America needed to be a vibrant part of a global economy, said Dreamers being allowed to stay was “obvious,” called for more investment in 21st century education and called the idea of arming teachers to prevent mass shootings a bad one.
For his part, Dodd said that cutting the corporate tax rate — a major part of the Republican’s signature legislative achievement in the Trump era — was a good move and said he would agree to build Trump’s coveted wall if it meant a solution for Dreamers was included in any deal.
“I would do it in a New York minute,” he told Panetta. “We have to find a solution to this that works for the entire country.”
Ayotte too, was bullish on a deal, saying both sides needed to stop using the issue as a political football and show courage in getting something done.
“This is a country of immigrants,” she said. “The people who come here to go to our best higher education institutions, we need to keep them here.”
However, Ayotte said she opposed sanctuary cities and said those who break the law need to be held accountable, a position that generated a somewhat surprising amount of applause given Monterey’s location in a staunchly Democratic part of a sanctuary state replete with several sanctuary cities.
Dodd too, said open borders were bad for the country, but said a new immigration system needed to settle before focus could turn to enforcement.
Perhaps the lack of daylight between the two former political adversaries is attributable to Panetta himself, who is often case a bastion of bipartisanship in a world where the very concept seems ever endangered.
A Democratic Congressman, he also served as the Secretary of Defense and the Chief of the Central Intelligence Agency and has often earned praise and respect from GOP politicians.
He formed the Panetta Institute for Public Policy and has hosted annual lecture series, with Monday’s first installment serving as the commencement of the 21st season.
This year, Panetta is asking participants to muse upon the state of the American Dream and whether the actions of the current generation mean the access to the much mythologized dream is less palpable for the coming generations.
“I was fortunate enough to live the American Dream, but I worry future generations will have the same opportunity to live that dream, especially regarding the changes in our job market — changes which are the most transformative since the Industrial Revolution,” Panetta said.
All three politicians mused that our government’s willingness to put spending on credit cards for future generations to pay will endanger the prosperity of current young people and the generations to come.
“I think you need to care about the debt, even when the president from your party is in office,” Ayotte said.
Dodd said the failure to deal with economic issues resulted from both failing to restrain spending, but also in giving tax cuts to the wealthy.
He said the failure was in leadership.
In an evening of uncharacteristic bipartisan agreement, all speakers agreed the debt will continue to be a problem that only uncommon political courage can overcome.
“In order to give young people a bright future, governments need to be able to invest in education, healthcare, infrastructure and all manner of things that demand attention,” Dodd said. “How can they if we so saddle coming generations with debt that they won’t be able to afford it?”