Bipartisan barbecue lunch returns to U.S. Senate, continuing Isakson tradition

Credit: Nathan Posner

Credit: Nathan Posner

WASHINGTON — A day and a half spent hauling the wood-burning barbecue pits from Georgia to Capitol Hill led to another day of prep work. And then they grilled the meat overnight: 150 pounds of pork, 150 pounds of beef brisket and 120 pounds of St. Louis ribs.

The pitmasters, Dale Thornton of South 40 Smokehouse in Marietta and William “Bubba” Latimer of Bub-Ba-Q in Woodstock and Jasper, said the trip was exhausting but worth it. They believe in the mission: bringing together the divided U.S. Senate through food and fellowship.

“Breaking bread with barbecue — everybody can sit down and associate with food,” Latimer said.

Georgia U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock helped relaunch the annual bipartisan barbecue lunch, which started 13 years ago under then-U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson.

Normally, senators meet for weekly luncheons with just the members of their party. Isakson decided to bring Republicans and Democrats into the same room once a year, encouraging them to mingle and hopefully build friendships that could make legislating and deal-making easier.

He brought in Thornton, a longtime friend, to provide Southern cuisine.

Republican U.S. Sens. Roy Blunt and Lindsey Graham and Democrat Chris Coons were the other co-hosts of the luncheon. It came at a time of intense debate on topics such as voting rights, policing and government spending on climate change and social services. These are all issues where the Senate, with 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats, remains divided along partisan lines.

John Isakson attended the lunch and brought greetings on behalf of his father, who retired in 2019 due to declining health.

Dessert for the senators was a peach cobbler that came from Lane Southern Orchards in Fort Valley and was topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Thornton said he was honored to continue the tradition started by Isakson.

“I know how important it is for Sen. Isakson to use food, and in this case barbecue, to bring people together from very, very diametrically opposed views on things,” he said. “Bring them together and sit down at the table, share a meal and solve a lot of problems in the process.”