Spring brings a change in the weather, and the first hopeful signs of new life. In Washington, D.C., the atmosphere warmed slightly and we saw the first sprouts of bipartisanship. There's still a chill in the air, but at least there's a chance that cooperation may survive and grow.
Of course, the "bipartisan" attacks on President Barack Obama's new budget, which contained elements both Democrats and Republicans demanded, aren't signs of cooperation. They're just amusing, or, as "Late Night" comedian Jimmy Fallon faux-quoted Obama as saying, "That's how you know it's good."
But on gun safety reform, real bipartisanship seems to be emerging from the cold, hard ground of rigid ideology. Several Republicans expected to filibuster to oblivion any legislation on the issue instead announced that they would vote to end the obstruction. Sen. James E. Risch of Idaho among those still prepared to filibuster, told CBS's Nora O'Donnell, "Well, of course, it's disappointing when you want to stop a piece of legislation but can't."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid felt confident enough he could end a filibuster against considering gun violence legislation that he announced a vote to bring the legislation to the Senate floor. On Thursday, Republicans joined with Democrats to permit the "the most august (legislative) body in the world," as Vice President Joe Biden called it, to actually debate.
When a seedling breaks through, a mighty oak may grow. Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia announced they had forged a compromise on background checks for buying guns at gun shows. It's an almost historic example of bipartisanship with near universal support -- 90 percent of Americans want expanded background checks.
However, an icy blast can kill a tender shoot. House Speaker John Boehner reacted to the senators' bipartisan agreement with scorn: "It's one thing for two members to come to some agreement," Boehner said. "That doesn't substitute the will of the other 98 members."
But Republican Toomey countered Republican Boehner, telling reporters that not only did he think his bipartisan proposal could pass the Senate, but "There are definitely Republicans in the House that support this." (Does that worry the speaker?)
Of course, Obama's own proposal on background checks is more thorough. But the NRA doesn't want background checks in any form -- even though over 70 percent of its own membership approves of background checks.
Nevertheless, the NRA tried to pressure Sens. Toomey and Manchin, who admitted that they were on the phone with the NRA as they forged their compromise. Actually, the NRA did more than pressure the senators. The Republican-leaning Washington Examiner says the NRA threatened them.
NRA chief lobbyist, Chris Cox, sent a letter to a number of senators telling them, in effect, that they would have a lot of explaining to do if they ended the filibuster. Cox warned that the NRA was going to "score" the vote. Toomey and Manchin, who previously had "A" ratings, felt doing the right thing was more important than an NRA grade, and compromised.
But that compromise itself required a compromise. Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York and Republican Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois worked as a team with Toomey and Manchin. But, Toomey felt Schumer to be so toxic to gun advocates that he refused to appear at the press conference endorsing their work if Schumer were there. The gentleman from New York agreed to step aside, and Kirk, out of deference to Schumer, joined him on the sidelines, leaving only Toomey and Manchin to announce the work of all four.
So it required three compromises to get a bipartisan agreement on legislation that 90 percent of America wants. And yet, I still find that hopeful.
The Christian Science Monitor finds that compromises are no longer the work of moderates, who are becoming harder and harder to find in Congress, but of individuals coming together for common interests and the common good.
Toomey and Manchin broke from the NRA not only because the public is behind them, but also, I like to think, because they are men of conscience, and that's more important to them than party leaders or the fearsome NRA. Manchin, in particular, was clearly moved after meeting with family members of children who were killed at Sandy Hook.
President Obama hopes to nurture bipartisanship by appealing to the conscience of Congress. He provided Air Force One to bring several parents from Sandy Hook to Washington so their voices could be heard.
In Chicago, first lady Michelle Obama had to choke back tears while talking about Hadiya Pendleton, the Chicago girl who attended Obama's inauguration as a school majorette and was killed a week later as an innocent bystander of Chicago street gun violence.
"This isn't some war zone half a world away," the first lady said. "This is our home. This kind of violence is what young people here face every single day." Obama said she identified with Hadiya, having grown up in Chicago as well. "Only, I'm still here," she said.
Perhaps the lasting legacy of Sandy Hook -- the good brought from unspeakable evil -- will be a resurgence of bipartisan agreement in Washington.
Donna Brazile is a political commentator on CNN, ABC and NPR, and a contributing columnist to Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill.