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Alabama Sen. Katie Britt cites friendship with Democrats in calling for more respectful discourse


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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — U.S. Sen. Katie Britt confided Tuesday that she counts some Democratic colleagues among her best friends in the Senate and said such cross-party relationships are essential to governing, especially as social media fuels widening political divisions.

During a visit to Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell's hometown, the first-term Alabama Republican also recounted how she carved out a unique role in the GOP conference as an adviser to McConnell and spoke about the need for U.S. strength to deter threats from foreign adversaries.

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Nearly a month after delivering a blistering critique of Democratic President Joe Biden for her party, Britt stressed the importance of treating people with respect — even when disagreeing with them on issues — in a speech at the University of Louisville.

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Sen. Katie Britt, R-Ala., speaks as part of the Distinguished Speaker Series hosted by Sen. Mitch McConnell at the University of Louisville in Louisville, Ky., Tuesday, April 2, 2024.  (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

"How do we get back to that in this country, where you don’t actually have to agree with someone to show them respect?" she said. "In today’s society it is increasingly hard to have an open and honest dialogue with somebody else that maybe doesn’t share your viewpoint. I think it’s a disservice, both to our people as a nation and to the progress that we can make."

McConnell introduced Britt to the audience and said she had "mastered a skill that still confounds some of my colleagues — you don’t have to agree with someone to work with them."

Britt mentioned Democratic Sens. John Fetterman, Peter Welch and Cory Booker as among her "greatest friends" in the Senate. And she pointed to the example set by her one-time boss, former Sen. Richard Shelby, and Democratic former Sen. Patrick Leahy.

"They showed that you do not have to agree with someone to show them respect," Britt said, adding that social media has accelerated the divide, turning some people into more of a "show horse than a workhorse."

The country needs to have tough conversations to tackle a myriad of difficult issues, such as securing the nation's Southern border, reducing drug overdose deaths and making housing and child care more affordable, Britt said. Abroad, the country needs to confront threats from Russia, China and Iran — after the U.S.'s abrupt withdrawal from Afghanistan "sent shockwaves" across the world, she said.

Britt didn't comment on the Republican rebuttal she gave in March to Biden's State of the Union that brought her much criticism: She used a harrowing account of a young woman’s sexual abuse to attack Biden's border policies, but the rapes did not happen in the U.S. or during the Biden administration.

The 42 year-old mother of two, instead, recounted Tuesday how McConnell saw her discussions about motherhood as her strengths.

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"What I had seen as maybe a weakness -- not looking like everybody else, not being like everybody else, not having the pedigree of everyone else – was actually a strength," Britt said Tuesday.

The 82-year-old McConnell noted some things he has in common with the freshman senator — both are from Alabama, though the longtime Kentucky senator quipped he tries to "keep that quiet up here." And both have been lampooned on "Saturday Night Live."

"I know it's going to take a lot more than a few punches from the press to knock her down," he said.

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