In an effort to bring civility and centrist-minded politics to America’s doorstep, former House representatives Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Rep. Max Rose (D-N.Y.) visited campus on Tuesday for a lecture called “Searching for the Center.”


The Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy sponsored the event as part of its Learning and Leading Through Difference Initiative, which the Cornell Roosevelt Institute co-sponsored. Arranged by No Labels — an organization seeking ballot access to run a bipartisan “unity ticket” in 2024 if both parties select nominees that are too extreme — the panel was moderated by Liz Morrison, No Labels’s co-executive director.

Early in the lecture, Rose highlighted what he called the “TMZ-ification” of American politics as a reason why members of Congress were becoming more extreme than in the past, adding that members of Congress now needed to have brands of their own and market themselves to capitalize on financial opportunities prior to leaving office.


“So many members are motivated by these different forces that don’t have anything actually to do with legislative progress. They have to do with, how many retweets did you get? How many small-dollar donations?” Rose said. “There are these weird, perverse incentives pushing people along each and every day. You don’t get on TV for passing bold legislation nearly enough. You get on TV for dividing, for saying things that are incendiary.”


\“[Politics] isn’t a normal business where people ‘get it,’” Rose said. “It’s 435 independent contractors, each with significant egos and each with significant purpose. And each with relatively thin skin and a big, big megaphone.”


Recalling his own experience voting on bills during the COVID-19 pandemic, Upton then pointed out that representatives often did not encounter each other for long periods of time due to proxy voting, which impacted personal relationships and isolated members. Republicans have since eliminated proxy voting — in which representatives had the ability to authorize another representative to vote on their behalf based on specific instructions — after gaining control over the House in the 2022 midterm elections.


“The last vote that I cast was to keep the government open on Dec. 27 with a couple of trillion dollars, because it is called the omnibus appropriation bill,” Upton said. “More than half of my colleagues who voted… on that bill voted by proxy. They weren’t there in person, because [proxy voting] was allowed because of COVID.”