It sounds like the beginning to a buddy comedy movie: Two congressmen, whose opposing parties couldn't be more at odds right now, are stranded after their flights were canceled because of a snowstorm. In order to make it back to Washington, D.C., in time for votes, they rent a car and begin making the roughly 1,600-mile trek.
That's exactly what Texas Reps. Beto O'Rourke, a Democrat, and Will Hurd, a Republican, have been doing for the past two days, allowing anyone to ride along with them in their rented Chevy Impala via Facebook video stream.
"At a time where so many people wonder whether our institutions still work, whether members of Congress still listen to the people they represent, whether a Republican and a Democrat can get along and work together. I thought, let's try to prove the concept," O'Rourke told the Dallas Morning News about his somewhat spur-of-the moment suggestion. The two had been stranded after a veterans' roundtable discussion in San Antonio.
They weren't incredibly close at the outset of their long journey, but spending so long in a car, talking about everything from policy issues to their families to doughnuts, quickly helped bridge any awkward divides. By the end of their trip, the two were talking about having Thanksgiving together.
They approached the trip like a town hall on wheels, taking questions from people who were commenting on Facebook. And, of course, they were talking about one of the hottest issues of the day — health care.
"I think we came to some common ground," O'Rourke told NPR's Morning Edition. "We want to see more people afford health care, but I think we have some differences of opinions on expansion of Medicaid."
"I've learned a lot about Beto," Hurd mused about his neighboring colleague during one point in the trip. "We've learned that we can work together on a lot more issues than what we have been."
The whole drive turned into a radio show of sorts — a mix of them picking songs to play, ranging from Bruce Springsteen to Johnny Cash to Robert Earl Keen.
It also became a call-in show, as they would dial up fellow colleagues and began encouraging them to undertake their own bipartisan road trip with a member of the opposite party. The duo began asking people on Twitter for their thoughts on possible pairings with the hashtag #CongressionalCannonballRun.
Throughout their drive, they amassed quite a following on social media, drawing thousands of people watching at a time. When they swung by Memphis late Tuesday night to see Graceland (it was closed), they were enticed by some people who had been commenting on their feed to stop at Gibson's Donuts instead, where they held court with several patrons and the shop's staff.
As they picked back up on Wednesday after stopping to sleep for a few hours in Nashville, there was an Amazing Race-like urgency for them to get back to D.C. by the time votes were scheduled at 6:30 p.m. ET. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy promised them he would do whatever he could to hold votes open and would even reserve a parking space in front of the Capitol for them.
The two pulled in front of the Capitol steps just before 6 p.m., with about 30 minutes before votes to spare. Their staff and other onlookers had gathered, with one waving a Texas flag.
As they headed into D.C., O'Rourke began blasting "The Final Countdown" and even Hurd admitted he was already beginning to feel a bit of separation anxiety from his colleague and newfound friend as their trip approached its end.
"I learned something — this is a guy I can work with," O'Rourke told Fox 5 DC as they started to go into the Capitol. "It just happens that we're on opposite sides of the aisle."
Hurd reflected that at the outset of their trip, some of the comments weren't as encouraging about their unique undertaking. But by the end, they had plenty of people cheering them on and holding the two men up as examples of bipartisanship that is sorely needed in Washington.
"The fact that people enjoyed it and the fact that people really changed the kind of language they were using while they were commenting at us was pretty cool," the Texas Republican said.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
A late winter storm has been dumping snow on the Northeast since yesterday. Thousands of flights have been canceled. That will not stop two Texas congressmen from making it back to Washington.
BETO O'ROURKE: We are in a Chevy Impala, stuck just outside of Waco in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
That's Democrat Beto O'Rourke in the car with Republican Will Hurd from neighboring districts along the southern border.
WILL HURD: Beto's driving right now.
MARTIN: In between bathroom breaks and taco stops, they've had plenty of time to thrash out the health care bill. Here's Congressman O'Rourke.
O'ROURKE: And I think we came to some common ground. We want to see more people be able to afford health care. But I think we have some differences of opinion on expansion of Medicaid. But we have 20 more hours of driving to go. So I'm going to try to bring Will a little bit closer to my point of view. I know he's going to try to do the same.
INSKEEP: So this is either bipartisanship or a buddy movie, I'm not sure which. You get a Republican and a Democrat and trap them both in a car.
HURD: There's some pieces of legislation that I'm going to look about helping with.
O'ROURKE: Like veterans' health care. And then here's a real big one. We're currently in our 16th year of war in Afghanistan. And we started a really good conversation about what victory looks like and what we are willing to do as a country to secure our goals and aims overseas. This might be an area that we come up with something to work on together.
INSKEEP: And there's yet another area where they might be able to work together.
O'ROURKE: It's been a bipartisan effort. We've got some Kenny Chesney on right now. But earlier, we were listening to a great station out of San Antonio, 90.1. It's more independent, alternative rock 'n' roll So we're just going to take turns I think.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WINNEBAGO")
KENNY CHESNEY: (Singing) Why don't we hook up the old Winnebago, baby.
MARTIN: Ah, the unifying powers of Kenny Chesney. Congressman Beto O'Rourke, Democrat of Texas, we reached him and Will Hurd, Republican congressman, as they drove from Texas to Washington, D.C., after storms caused their flights to be canceled.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WINNEBAGO")
KENNY CHESNEY: (Singing) As soon as we get there. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.