Crossing the Political Divide at the Wilson Center

Effective policymaking on Capitol Hill for complex issues of international peace and security often requires bipartisanship.  Collegial relationships and a nuanced understanding of the issues are essential for creating the conditions for this kind of constructive cooperation to take place. Recognizing the central role played by Congressional staffers in the legislative process, twice a year the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Foreign Policy Fellowship Program brings together a bipartisan mix of about 50 staffers for a six-week seminar series on key foreign policy challenges.

The fourth seminar of the spring 2016 program, held on Friday, April 29, focused on Russia. It began with briefings and a Q & A with experts Matthew Rojansky and William Pomeranz, who provided historical, cultural, political, and economic context for the current state of U.S.-Russia relations. Fellows were then assigned to four bipartisan groups for an interactive session applying the topic to work of the legislative branch. Two were tasked with debating whether Russia poses a threat to U.S. national interests. Two others were asked to come up with a set of recommendations for their (imaginary) Congress member in response to one of two crisis scenarios involving Russia. The diverse views held by individuals within each group required the teams to work collaboratively to find common ground and think through the arguments in favor of a perspective other than their own.

Throughout the afternoon, the fellows demonstrated impressive technical knowledge and insightful analysis. The sense of camaraderie that has developed among the cohort was evident during the social hour at the end of the seminar, as the staffers swapped stories and bonded around their shared experiences as part of this unique professional community within the DC world. In only its fourth year, the solid word-of-mouth reputation the Fellowship Program has already acquired ensures that it will continue to be a valuable resource for future participants and its growing alumni network.