When politicians grow up, they search their careers for substantive accomplishments. The temporary affections of the political crowd, the petty disagreements, the party rivalries are lost in a quest for greater significance. “Am I/was I about something big enough to be about?” the grown-up politician wonders. “Am I/was I about leading or following — the wandering crowd, the party leader presenting a clear danger to the Republic, the aging colleague needing to leave the stage?” “Was I an agent of chaos in a house divided, or did I work to bring America together, healing rifts and bridging divides?”

Former members like me need to be careful not to write revisionist histories. Our times involved plenty of small-mindedness. In the retelling, we often sanitize our stories, removing some of the smallness. Even the irksomeness of the other side is omitted. The vitriol subsides. Former members of Congress even speak of the “others” with newfound fondness.

When I was in Congress, I butted heads with Representative Pat Schroeder, a Democrat from Colorado who served from 1973 to 1997. She was pro-choice; I’m pro-life. She supported nearly every progressive cause; I opposed nearly every progressive cause. The record of our exchanges in the Judiciary Committee will show real acrimony, but when I read the news of her death in March, I was truly saddened. Someone with whom I had served was no more. A milepost was gone. I had seen Ms. Schroeder several years after we had both left Congress. We were in an elevator at the Capitol. The struggle was gone. The harsh, competitive looks had vanished. I might have even joked with her about using a line I’d heard her say before: “Don’t tell my mother I’m a member of Congress; she thinks I’m a prostitute!” I wish I had asked her if we could be friends.

It’s the same kind of regret that I have about my first six years in Congress, regret that was particularly intense in the sizzling summer of 2023. July 3-6 were the hottest four days on record globally. Algal blooms closed beaches at inland lakes. Even though I spend my time now inviting fellow conservatives into the climate conversation, my regret remains. What troubles could we have avoided if people like me had signed up earlier for the climate challenge?

I realize now that the fight wasn’t against Al Gore; it was against climate change. Just as the challenge of funding the government isn’t a referendum on Speaker McCarthy; it’s a challenge of making one out of many — E pluribus unum — and of bringing the country together to do basic things. We face huge challenges, but we face them together. No American is exempt from our crushing federal debt and deficit. No American is exempt from epic demographic and technological changes. No American is exempt from the challenge of climate change. We’re in this together.

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