Heard on the Hill

They Bonded at Yucca Mountain. Now They’re Tackling Wi-Fi

Latta and McNerney say wireless networking is inherently bipartisan

Reps. Jerry McNerney, left, and Bob Latta, right, have been friends ever since they went to Yucca Mountain together. (Courtesy of Latta's office)

You’re probably reading this article thanks to Wi-Fi. That’s what brought Bob Latta and Jerry McNerney together too. 

The two lawmakers — one an Ohio Republican, the other a California Democrat — teamed up to form the bipartisan Congressional Wi-Fi Caucus, which they launched in October at the height of election turmoil and the partisan fight over who would control the House.

The point of the caucus is to have an open dialogue about the wireless networking concerns that touch people’s lives, or will soon enough — things like 5G, cybersecurity, smart cities, spectrum optimization and autonomous vehicles. 

It helped that Latta and McNerney already get along, the two said on a joint phone interview earlier this month.

Their relationship began in the trenches of the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository in Nevada. They were on a trip with other members to inspect the waste.

“Bob and I went on that trip, we stayed in the same hotel and we got to know each other a little bit. I recognize that Bob is someone that’s easy to work with. We’re clearly on other sides of the fence, but I can see his point of view, and I’m willing to work with him to get stuff done,” McNerney said.

Their relationship has also trickled down to the aide level.

“He’s got a good staff. My staff appreciates that. It’s just been a good partnership,” the California Democrat said.

Another way their bonded is office proximity. Their offices are both in the Rayburn House Office Building.

“We walk over back and forth from the floor to the office buildings during votes so you can strike up a good relationship. Jerry’s one of those guys [who] wants to go get things done, but at the same time, I like Jerry,” Latta laughed. “That makes things a lot easier.”

And they’re both on the Energy and Commerce Committee.

“One of the things I know people always talk about, there’s always bickering going on [in Congress], but when you look at the Energy and Commerce Committee, 92 percent of the bills that come out of our committee are bipartisan,” said Latta, a four-term congressman.

Six-term congressman McNerney added, “That’s one of the things that when you find someone on the other side that you get along with, it makes it a lot easier. It makes being in Washington easier and gives you hope that we can actually get more done.”

To get more members to sign on to their caucus, they plan to reinforce that Wi-Fi is a bipartisan issue.

“The digital divide affects all of this. If you live in a city, you’re going to have pockets where there’s people who don’t have access to internet. If you live out in the country, you may not have access to high speed internet,” McNerney said. “So it’s very important to get past this. It’s absolutely, inherently, a bipartisan issue.”

Latta reinforced the idea that Wi-Fi is so well used, it can’t be a partisan issue.

“When you’re looking at half the service out there is on Wi-Fi, and this is something again that’s not a Republican, Democrat, independent issue. We’re all dependent on it out there, and we want to make sure that we’re doing the absolute best not only for our constituents but for people across the country,” the Ohio Republican said.

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