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.
Great use of tax payer dollars.
Doesn't he have better things to do? I hope he took a vacation day so he can sit on his butt all day waiting to shake The President's hand.
What a suck up. I would retire rather than have my name in the same sentence with sheila jackson lee,or chris dodd, or barney frank,or harry reid, or nancy botox pelosi along with nobama.
Wonder if he wore his new nascar style jumpsuit with all the logos of the companies he sponsors?
Sounds like a busy day for them. Guess they don't have anything better to do. Heaven forbid should they actually try and work and do something constructive. More important to be "Aisle Seat" for the Photo Ops!!
I'm glad that Engel doesn't 'hero worship' Obama. It is an honor to shake the hand of any president of the United States.
That said, I think that, in a way, many people do 'worship' Obama–which is why he is in much of the political trouble that he's in now.
maybe if he would work a little harder for this country instead of trying to get his mug on t v we wouldnt be in this mess....
Let's just hope that OBAMA doesn't blame anyone or thing this time...it is time to take resposibilty!!! you caused this MESS!!
one loser shaking hands with another loser......seems about right
Hummmmmm 13 hours doing nothing just to hold down a seat for a national photo op. This must be part of the stimulus bill. It also must mean that the New York congressman has nothing to work on for his home state..... seems strange for a state with a deficit
Don't these people have any work to do? They really have enough free time that they can park on their posteriors all day, doing nothing?
Gee, I want that job: endless free time and $174,000 a year of taxpayer money to spend...
I wouldn't arrive to an event 13 hours
early even if Mariah Carey and Sarah Palin
both were going to have a drink with me.
Sounds like these three representatives
may need some serious counseling.
Great use of time of our public servants....glad we pay them so much to sit around and do nothing.....actually it is better if they do sit around and do nothing....they will cause LESS harm that way!
Engle must either be one of Barry's groupies or is in line for a bribe!
The speech tonight will be a joke tomorrow!
This man is a class act. Props to you, Mr. Congressman!
To funny, I would sit as far away from Odumbo as I could get, every thing he touches turns to crap right now.
But then again Engel is a Dem so I guess he cant get any worse off.
2010/2012 REAL Change is coming
Why not it seems he doesn't have anyting else to do like trying to do a job he was elected to do.
The Rock Star coming down the isle seems getting there early is what a teenager would do.
Typical Democrats. Biggest priority for them is to get noticed and as the article says, be on primetime. How baout worrying less about staying in office and more about the people's business?
Not to change the subject but . . .
If the hero of the right wing, young James O'Keefe and his three buddies get convicted for his misadventures on Monday, he will lose the right to vote in 2012 . . .
Ah, Sweet Irony
Yes it is an honor for anyone no matter who they are to shake the hand of a President.
He could teach quite a few people about "respect for the office". Kudos to him.
May the picture with Obozo be a publicized kiss of death for their reelections. Their idea of taking care of the peoples business is getting their pictures taken with the most corrupt and failed president in history. Hopefully this will be all of their legacy.
I'd do the same thing if I had the chance to be there. What an honor it would be to shake the hand and exchange a few words with President Obama.
President Obama has done an outstanding job this year to try to save our nation from financial disaster and to have started moving America forward. Eight years of disaster can't be magically fixed in one year but at least we have an intelligent President who is doing all the right things. President Obama, unlike the do-nothing Republicans, cares about the PEOPLE and his entire focus is on us and improving our lives.
I stand proudly beside President Obama and his people-focused agenda for America. He will restore America despite all the Republican hate and lies and racism against him.
We need to be realistic about the time it will take to bring back prosperity to average Americans when Bush and the Republicans spent 8 years sending our jobs overseas, giving tax credits to the rich, and letting the banks run wild with our money. Republicans today still want to follow those same failed policies. They are not for the People. They are the sole supporters of the large corporations who eliminated our jobs and took big bonuses, the insurance companies who are killing and bankrupting Americans, and the banks who took taxpayer money and slapped us in the face with higher credit card rates, no help with mortgages or loans to small businesses they promised. Republicans = corporate elitists who buy their votes. Democrats = Party of the People
An actual seat is about the only thing Democrats will save this year.
Their congressional seats are in big jeopardy thanks to their big government agenda.
He has nothing better to do?