Sen.-elect Mitt Romney says a divided Congress may force people to work together

New GOP senators-elect, Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., center, and Mitt Romney of Utah, left, leave a meeting in the office of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 13, 201816. Cramer ousted incumbent Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and Romney replaces retiring Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah who has been in the Senate since 1977. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Washington • Control of Congress may be divided between Republicans and Democrats, but Sen.-elect Mitt Romney says that might actually be a good thing.

The newly elected Utah Republican says with Democrats leading the House and Republicans holding the Senate, the only way Washington doesn’t get mired in pure gridlock is if the two sides come together and compromise.

“I think it’s maybe the silver lining in that cloud,” Romney said Thursday. “It’s always nice if you’re in the majority party to say, ‘Hey, we don’t need you guys.’ But the silver lining is being able to work together. The requirement of working together means that legislation that’s passed is likely to endure as opposed to be overturned the time the next party comes into power.”

Romney, who will take office in January, said in a wide-ranging interview with The Salt Lake Tribune that perhaps having a split government can force politicians to the table rather than just one party having its way.

Romney's been there before.

As Massachusetts governor, Romney was a Republican faced with an overwhelmingly Democratic General Court, the commonwealth's legislature, and he had to work with the opposing party to get anything done.

“I cut my teeth in a setting where I was in the distinct minority, where the Legislature had the power – 89 percent of the votes were in the opposition party,” Romney said. “To do anything, we had to work together. And frankly, we did a lot of stuff together and the things we did, interestingly all these years later, are still enduring and still shaping policy in a positive way.”

It may be a bit Pollyannaish, but Romney believes that even though the parties are sharply divided over major issues, there’s a chance President Donald Trump and the GOP Senate can cross the aisle to work with Democrats in the House.

“We've been so divided as a nation for a lot of reasons that the effort to sort of come together and look for common places where we have common concerns is not a bad thing,” Romney said. “It would be nice if the nation as a whole could come together on some point of view on matters of significance.”

The incoming freshman senator was in Washington this week for orientation, learning the ropes of hiring a staff, getting tutored on writing legislation and finding his way around the massive Capitol complex.

He's largely avoided chatting with reporters staking out his temporary basement office and at the underground entry point to the Capitol but says he's met with many of his new colleagues and has found the experience positive.

The senator-elect has also made some decisions:

  • His campaign manager, Matt Waldrip, the former head of business development at the hedge fund Solamere, will become his new chief of staff. Other staff decisions are pending.

  • Romney plans to buy a house or a condo in Washington and his wife, Ann, will spend time with him there, in Utah and in Massachusetts where she helps run a center combating neurological diseases named after her. Romney was spotted on Capitol Hill last weekend looking at the neighborhood.

  • He’s making friends. While house hunting, Romney ran into Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who offered advice on where best to live in Washington.

  • Romney hasn’t decided on what committees he’d like to serve on but mentioned interest in finance, foreign relations, budget, health and education and environment and public works. The Harvard-trained lawyer is not interested, initially he said, in serving on the Judiciary Committee.

  • Romney has not spoken to Trump since his election, saying he’s been focusing on learning the ins and outs of the Senate.

  • Romney is also spending time with Sen. Orrin Hatch whom he’ll replace in the Senate. The longtime senator has been offering advice and even space (Romney was doing select interviews Thursday in Hatch’s office, which is more spacious than Romney’s temporary digs).