Senator wants changed seating for State of the Union
January 12th, 2011
05:26 PM ET
3 years ago

Senator wants changed seating for State of the Union

(CNN) - Colorado Democratic Sen. Mark Udall released a letter Wednesday proposing that members of both political parties sit next to each other at this year's State of the Union address instead of the normal seating which is divided along party lines.

"As the nation watches, Democrats and Republicans should reflect the interspersed character of America itself," Udall wrote. "Perhaps, by sitting with each other for one night, we will begin to rekindle that common spark that brought us here from 50 different states and widely diverging backgrounds to serve the public good."

In the letter Udall plans to send to Congressional leadership, he said the "debate surrounding our politics has grown ever more corrosive," and suggested choreographed standing and clapping is unbecoming of Congress, especially given the recent Arizona shooting.

The idea was first announced in a letter to "restore civility" by Third Way, a think tank dedicated to moderate political ideas.

– CNN Senior Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash contributed to this report


Full text:

United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
Overcoming Divided Government
January 12, 2011

Dear Majority Leader Reid, Speaker Boehner, Minority Leaders McConnell and Pelosi:

We, the undersigned members of Congress, believes that partisan seating arrangements at State of the Union addresses serve to symbolize division instead of the common challenges we face in securing a strong future of the United States.

As we all know, the tenor and debate surrounding our politics has grown ever more corrosive – ignoring the fact that while we may take different positions, we all have the same interests. This departure from statesmanship and collegiality is fueled, in part, by continuous campaigns and divisive rhetoric. Political differences will always generate a health debate, but over time the dialogue has become more hateful and at times violent. But now the opportunity before us is to bring civility back to politics. It is important to show the nation that the most powerful deliberative bodies in the world can debate our differences with respect, honor and civility. It is not only possible, but it is something that nearly all members of Congress truly desire. To that end, we should set a small, but important, new tradition in American politics.

At the State of the Union address on January 25th, instead of sitting in our usual partisan divide, let us agree to have Democrats and Republicans sitting side by side throughout the chamber. Beyond custom, there is no rule or reason that on this night we should emphasize divided government, separated by party, instead of being seen united as a country. The choreographed standing and clapping of one side of the room – while the other side sits – is unbecoming of a serious institution. And the message that is sends it that even on a night when the President is addressing the entire nation, we in Congress cannot sit as one, but must be divided as two.

On the night of the State of the Union address, House and Senate members from both parties ought to cross the aisle and sit together. As the nation watches, Democrats and Republicans should reflect the interspersed character of America itself. Perhaps, by sitting with each other for one night, we will being to rekindle that common spark that brought us here form 50 different states and widely diverging backgrounds to serve the public good.

I plan to send the attached letter to both House and Senate leadership indicating an intention to pursue a bipartisan seating arrangement. If you are interested in joining on this letter, please have a staff member contact Hillary Daniels.

With respect and admiration,

Mark Udall
United States Senator

soundoff (45 Responses)
  1. EddyL

    What a splendid and rational idea.... Of course from a Democrat!

    January 12, 2011 05:29 pm at 5:29 pm |
  2. arkieron

    I sure like this idea. Let's stop the finger pointing and make this a dedication to work together to find solutions to the serious ecconomic and social problems this nations faces.

    January 12, 2011 05:30 pm at 5:30 pm |
  3. swimmore

    That sweet! and appropriate! Good for you, Sen. Udall.

    January 12, 2011 05:33 pm at 5:33 pm |
  4. GOP Taliban Victim

    Makes sense...best idea I ever heard to stop the petty games. That way the media will stop obsessing about close-ups of Eric Cantor ignoring the President during the speech while he plays games and sends texts on his gadgets.

    January 12, 2011 05:34 pm at 5:34 pm |
  5. blahb31

    Senator Udall, I like the cut of your jib!

    January 12, 2011 05:35 pm at 5:35 pm |
  6. ingrid

    Good. I like that idea. I am sick of division. I think we can have different ideas but we must remember that all of us want what is best for our country. We might have very different visions of how we should achieve our objectives but let us stop vilifying each other.

    January 12, 2011 05:36 pm at 5:36 pm |
  7. Tim

    Yeah, and then when we go back to back-room deals where we horse trade, bribe and twist arms, and change the rules on how someone can be appointed to fill vacant seats so that we can steal another vote, all so that we can cram legislation down the throats of people who are saying enough, we'll all feel better.

    Good idea.

    January 12, 2011 05:37 pm at 5:37 pm |
  8. Constitution believer

    Awesome idea, Senator Udall! This is, indeed, how the majority of Americans would like to see the institution. Most Americans are moderates who care primarily for a government that seeks effective solutions to issues, not ideological purity.

    January 12, 2011 05:38 pm at 5:38 pm |
  9. Liberal4Obama

    Great idea. I always cringe when I see one side standing up or clapping and the other side just silent.

    At least for one day lets be ALL on the same side

    January 12, 2011 05:42 pm at 5:42 pm |
  10. BillOReits

    A brilliant idea!! Such a great way to show some unity at a tragic and critical time; what could be more American? Unfortunately, unity is the last thing the GOP wants to show while our President is Barack Obama, so expect excuses and rhetoric instead of unity. Come on Boehner! Come on McConnell! I challenge you to prove me wrong.

    January 12, 2011 05:43 pm at 5:43 pm |
  11. CutTax

    Bu ha ha, democrats in minority, don't wish to show the true

    January 12, 2011 05:44 pm at 5:44 pm |
  12. Ronald

    Well-intentioned, but bandaid-like. But I suppose there's always a first step...

    January 12, 2011 05:48 pm at 5:48 pm |
  13. last721

    Thank you so much Rep. Udall! What a great idea. You might even add having a dinner together for the same purpose, where everyone is seated next to an opposing party. If all of us alike would begin to call on friends, neighbors and family to dialogue together in the spirit of cooperation and understanding, maybe all of America could be healed. After all, no matter what our differences, we all make up the fabric of America and it is imperative that we begin to mend our differences and finallly put our hearts and minds together for the good of all.

    January 12, 2011 05:56 pm at 5:56 pm |
  14. detada

    This change would be a good start towards improved inclusion, something that is foreign to most in the party of NOthing.

    January 12, 2011 05:59 pm at 5:59 pm |
  15. ABM

    VERY GOOD IDEA! Time to break down the factions.

    January 12, 2011 06:03 pm at 6:03 pm |
  16. Alan

    Fantastic, and I think with the current temperament that both parties will agree and will do it.

    January 12, 2011 06:04 pm at 6:04 pm |
  17. little guy

    I like the idea, but the idea of Congressfolk coming from "widely divergent backgrounds" is a bit of a stretch. How many of them made a normal working-man's wage when they were elected? I'll wager it's precious few...
    Get someone in there who makes less that $100 K a year that might almost understand financial issues and decisions from this end of the income spectrum...

    January 12, 2011 06:04 pm at 6:04 pm |
  18. ANdy

    Excellent start, but keep going: abolish the ridiculous applause. Tell the assembled body: no applause until the end of the speech. It is insulting to watch the partisan applause/stoic silence every year.

    January 12, 2011 06:09 pm at 6:09 pm |
  19. Tam

    Very good.

    January 12, 2011 06:12 pm at 6:12 pm |
  20. dwayne

    I agree.

    January 12, 2011 06:12 pm at 6:12 pm |
  21. Thinks2010

    This is a great idea. It should be done all year. The members of each party could still caucus with their own party members, but they should have mixed seating on the House and Senate floor. It would be artificial at first; but as they get to know the members of the other party sitting around them day to day I am certain at least some of them would be more open to working together for the good of the country. As it is now, the Congress behaves more like the Bloods and the Cripts than like statesmen working together for the good of this country.

    January 12, 2011 06:13 pm at 6:13 pm |
  22. dwayne

    I should have been more clear; I agree with Democratic Sen. Mark Udall.

    January 12, 2011 06:14 pm at 6:14 pm |
  23. They ought to change from the elephant to the hippo...

    Or maybe even by State delegation... Which it probably should be anyway...

    January 12, 2011 06:16 pm at 6:16 pm |
  24. Jer

    Its not likely going to change much, but it is a wonderful idea.

    January 12, 2011 06:19 pm at 6:19 pm |
  25. TrinityLee

    It’s remarkable how something so simple would resonate with the American people who are in desperate need to see elected officials act with respect and rationally. This would bode well I believe on a global level, especially if this seating arrangement remained as such for the foreseeable future. Talk about crossing party lines (and I think some good symbolism is needed in this nation).

    January 12, 2011 06:26 pm at 6:26 pm |
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