January 27th, 2010
02:51 PM ET
4 years ago

Congressman arrives extra early for aisle seat

Washington (CNN) – At 8 o'clock this morning, 13 hours before President Obama was scheduled deliver the State of the Union address, Rep. Elliot Engel, D-NY, arrived in the House chamber to secure an aisle seat, in order to shake the president's hand when he enters.

Though this year he says he arrived earlier than ever before, saving a seat for a presidential grip and grin has been a ritual for Engel for more than twenty years – since George H. W. Bush's first appearance before Congress.

"To me its a great celebration of American democracy," said Engel, standing outside the House chamber for a brief break during his long day of waiting.

Engel is part of what has became a small group of what he calls a "cast of characters" who come early to get on prime time television with the president. Others include Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-TX, and Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-IL.

Full coverage: President Obama's State of the Union address

This year, Engel said congressional officials sent a notice that they were tightening the rules for seat saving – warning that lawmakers were not permitted to come early, put tape on a seat, and then not come back until later in the evening.

That means only the truly committed who stay in the vicinity can prevail.

"You hang around, you're in and you're out...you've got to go to the bathroom," said Engel.

The New York Democrat insists he is still able to do his work. He holds meetings in the Rayburn room just outside the House chamber, and uses one of three computers available to lawmakers in the House ante room.

Engel says his constituents "love it."

"Six months from now, someone will say to me, 'Congressman I saw you on TV,' and I'll think it was in a brilliant interview...what was I saying?

And they'll say 'no no you were shaking the presidents hand.' That's what they remember."

Engel says when George W. Bush was president he got pressure to break his ritual and not shake the president's hand to protest the Iraq war. Engel said he refused.

"It's an honor to shake the hand of the President of the United States, no matter who it is," said Engel.

soundoff (44 Responses)
  1. Rick McDaniel

    The people elected a "handshake autograph hound"?

    That is so pathetic.....really!

    January 27, 2010 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  2. Average American

    I love seeing people excited about democracy in general – regardless of party affiliation. We need more of this in our country.

    January 27, 2010 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  3. jim

    Obviously Rep. Engle needs a different job and something constructive to do. This isn't a parade where one sits in a lawn chair and watches the bands. The folks in his NY district should ask him if he took his salary for today. If this was a citizen using job time to get an autograph or good seat-his/her employer would disipline, deduct time from his/her salary or dismiss subject employee. Why a double standard for Engle??? He should be ashamed of himself and apologize for very poor judgement. This is another example of why folks are getting more and more honked off about the ethics and judgment of their elected reps. Way to go Elliot!

    January 27, 2010 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  4. margy

    It is not an honor to shake the hand of Obama. He did nothing good to deserve to shake his hand. This is the worst time in America for many Americans.

    January 27, 2010 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  5. Jane/Seattle

    Sure wish We, The People rated the Attention, The Health Care, The Stimulous, The rest of it!

    January 27, 2010 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  6. JK Ashburn, VA

    Our tax dollars at work.

    Probably better than the alternative, however. At least he is not messin' with interns, pillaging PAC dollars, or worse, writing yet another stupid law.

    January 27, 2010 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  7. Willy Brown

    Tax payer dollars well spent goofing off all day.

    January 27, 2010 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  8. TCM

    boy, this is newsworthy...what a loser, just like all the other kool-aid swillers...

    January 27, 2010 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  9. Capt. Snarky

    I don't know which is a bigger Chowderhead – Him for thinking that meeting Obama is a big deal, or Obama for thinking that Obama is a big deal............

    January 27, 2010 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  10. Karen

    Guess he has no work to do today – what a life!

    January 27, 2010 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  11. Monster Zero

    At 8 o'clock this morning, 13 hours before President Obama was scheduled deliver the State of the Union address, Rep. Elliot Engel, D-NY, arrived in the House chamber to secure an aisle seat, in order to shake the president's hand when he enters.

    13 hours of holding a seat on the taxpayer dime, working hard for you America, taking your tax dollars and wasting them daily. Creating new and innovative ideas to implement a liberal ideolog to strip you of your freedoms and rights. Yes America, this is the Republic our founding fathers envisioned!

    January 27, 2010 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  12. Steph

    I can't believe the group of idiots commenting here. First, they've done this for every president since the first Bush. Second, if you've every watched C-span (which seems to be a hot topic lately on Faux News), you'll know that they bring their work with them.

    January 27, 2010 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  13. margyisnopatriot

    Have some respect for the office if you don't have enough decency to respect the man. The hate you have in your heart is not good for you.

    January 27, 2010 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  14. Showtime - Tampa

    Beverly in NC – that is pretty funny....you haven't been paying much attention have you!

    January 27, 2010 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  15. Olaf Big

    Man, doesn't he have any worik to do?

    January 27, 2010 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  16. No More Incumbents

    They obviously have nothing better to do................. and it is all about them................

    January 27, 2010 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  17. lifelong democrat

    Watch losers tonight standing up, clapping their hands, while CHIEF LOSER-IN-CHIEF give his loser and lying speech.

    January 27, 2010 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  18. J.P.

    Ah, 2010 is going to be a good year to clear out these bleacher bums.

    January 27, 2010 04:50 pm at 4:50 pm |
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