Cue the inevitable “lumps of coal” jokes.
The Senate has organized the first-ever Senate Secret Santa gift exchange now that the holiday season is here.
The idea was first proposed by Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., who thought the holiday gift-giving would be a good way to bring both parties together at a time when the Senate is especially divided.
“We used to do this back in school in Minnesota and it was just a fun way of solving the Christmas gift-giving problem and maybe make a friend of someone you didn’t know so well,” said Sen. Franken said to ABC News. ”So, I decided, ‘What the heck, let’s do it here.’”
Franken signed up Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., to help rally up support for the idea among his Republican colleagues in the Senate. In mid-November, Senators drew names from a hat to find out who their gift recipient would be.
“The idea is to bring some lightheartedness to the Senate at what can be a particularly tense time in Washington,” said Johanns said to ABC News. “I don’t have any great expectations that we will suddenly fix Medicare and Social Security and the budget because of this, but I think it could help to ease tensions and tone down some of the partisanship.”
The stakes are not high: The gift cannot exceed $10, showing that the Senators understand the optics of a higher-value gift exchange during economically-challenging times.
Democrats will give presents to Republicans. Republicans will give to Democrats, reaching for a rare collegial bipartisan moment.
Not everyone in the Senate is participating – the gift exchange so far has attracted only 58 Senators. More Democrats than Republicans signed up – 37 Democrats to 21 Republicans.
Neither Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV., or Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY., are participating.
There will be a small party in mid-to-late December to swap presents. A Senate aide says the date of the gift exchange has not been set yet, as it mostly depends on how much work the Senate has checked off their long list of legislative “to-do’s” this month.
Meanwhile, many Americans might prefer to see members of the Senate receive nothing more than a lump of coal this holiday season.
The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll showed the lowest approval for Congress in polls dating back to the mid-1970′s: Only 14% of Americans approve of the way Congress is doing its job.