January 27th, 2010
02:51 PM ET
8 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. Me

    Great use of tax payer dollars.

    January 27, 2010 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  2. Thomas, Missoula, MT

    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.

    January 27, 2010 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  3. Mike

    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.

    January 27, 2010 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  4. Who said the Mayans were wrong?

    Wonder if he wore his new nascar style jumpsuit with all the logos of the companies he sponsors?

    January 27, 2010 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  5. MJ

    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!!

    January 27, 2010 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  6. Personal responsibility, please.

    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.

    January 27, 2010 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  7. gt

    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....

    January 27, 2010 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  8. GGG

    Let's just hope that OBAMA doesn't blame anyone or thing this time...it is time to take resposibilty!!! you caused this MESS!!

    January 27, 2010 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  9. Obama Victim

    one loser shaking hands with another loser......seems about right

    January 27, 2010 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  10. Your government dollars at work

    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

    January 27, 2010 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  11. Henry Miller, Libertarian

    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...

    January 27, 2010 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  12. jeff jackson, alabama

    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.

    January 27, 2010 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  13. Showtime - Tampa

    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!

    January 27, 2010 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  14. Keith in Austin

    Engle must either be one of Barry's groupies or is in line for a bribe!

    The speech tonight will be a joke tomorrow!

    January 27, 2010 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  15. Nathaniel C.

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

    This man is a class act. Props to you, Mr. Congressman!

    January 27, 2010 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  16. Dar

    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

    January 27, 2010 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  17. JES

    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.

    January 27, 2010 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  18. Dude

    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?

    January 27, 2010 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  19. Keith In Austism

    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

    January 27, 2010 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  20. Ruben Zayas

    Yes it is an honor for anyone no matter who they are to shake the hand of a President.

    January 27, 2010 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  21. Justin

    He could teach quite a few people about "respect for the office". Kudos to him.

    January 27, 2010 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  22. southerncousin

    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.

    January 27, 2010 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  23. Beverly in NC

    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

    January 27, 2010 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  24. stevegee

    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.

    January 27, 2010 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  25. AJ

    He has nothing better to do?

    January 27, 2010 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
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