Amid the rancor of divisive political rhetoric often heard from Capitol Hill, a bipartisan group of senators meets weekly to pray together and understand each other as "real people," not "evil enemies," Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said Sunday on CBS' Face the Nation.
"Senator [James] Lankford [R-Okla.] and I are the co-chairs of the weekly Senate prayer breakfast," Coons said. "We get together every week with a bipartisan group of several dozen Senators and one of the things we focus on is trying to meet each other in a spirit of humility and prayer and to see each other as real people, not as evil enemies ... more than just political opponents."
Coons then noted his concerns about the divisive tone taken by President Donald Trump and other political leaders.
"One of the things that really concerns me, that weighs on my heart ... is the ways in which our president and a number of other national political leaders of both parties have used their megaphones in order to inspire and instill and energize folks based on division rather than based on unity," he said.
Three separate incidents of violence or potential violence, some likely inspired by politics, occurred over the past week: a pro-Trump Florida man sent pipe bombs to political opponents of Trump, a gunman attacked a synagogue in Pittsburgh, and a gunman killed two people at a Kroger after first attempting to enter a black church in Kentucky.
When asked by host John Dickerson about the recent increase in anti-Semitic violence, Coons said, "I think that's because of the caustic tone of our national politics. ... I think there's a responsibility for all of us to lower the tone of hatred and division in our country."
Lankford was interviewed separately on the same show and was asked similar questions. Dickerson noted that the synagogue shooter was angered by the immigrant caravan in Mexico, and believed that George Soros was funding it, a myth that has been promoted by President Trump.
"Do you see any connection between the shooter motivated by that and the case the president has been making?" Dickerson asked.
"I don't," Lankford responded, "because this particular shooter also condemned President Trump, saying he was a globalist and that he was allowing some of this to happen. So I don't see any connection where you would connect the president to this particular shooting, just like I wouldn't see that connecting Democrats when a person walked up to a baseball game last year in Washington D.C. and said, 'Is this where the Republicans are practicing?' And then opened fire on them simply because they were Republicans."
Similar to some of Coons' concerns, Lankford said all Americans bear some responsibility in how they interact on social media.
"But the challenge that we have is our social media rhetoric, our intensity of our dialogue, is no longer about having dialogue and conversation. It's shouting someone else down that you disagree with and trying to silence them rather than having dialogue with them," he said.
Dickerson then asked, Does President Trump "meet that standard that you are talking about for public discourse?"
"No," Lankford answered. "I've said this to the president before. I think that the president needs to be more clear in his rhetoric and doesn't need to be as caustic in his rhetoric. That's the way he chooses to be able to communicate things and I don't think it's always helpful in that.
"We have the same issue on university campuses all around the country, where individuals can't speak out on their views because they'll get shouted down. We had that around the Kavanaugh hearings, where you'd walk through the Capitol and people would shout at you, trying to be able to silence individuals. That doesn't help in our basic dialogue and I think the president should, and I think all of us that are in Congress, and anyone in public life, should set a good role model example of what it means to have respectful dialogue."
A February Roll Call article notes that the Senate Prayer Breakfast is a tradition dating back to 1943, and about one-quarter of senators participate in the weekly, Wednesday morning, event led by Senate Chaplain Barry Black.