Bipartisan State of the Union seating gets traction
2010 State of the Union address
January 13th, 2011
09:20 PM ET
12 years ago

Bipartisan State of the Union seating gets traction

Washington (CNN) - Colorado Democratic Sen. Mark Udall's idea of having members of both political parties sit next to each other at this year's State of the Union address is gaining traction - some positive and some negative.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Udall's "thoughtful suggestion" is worth "serious consideration."

"I spoke with Democratic Whip (Steny) Hoyer and Sen. (Mitch) McConnell about the proposal and we will discuss it further next week," Reid said in a statement. "After this tragedy, it's important for our country to see that we all stand together as Americans and this could be one way to demonstrate that."

Hoyer issued a strong endorsement, suggesting it would end the political theater of the address.

"I believe that members of both parties can symbolize our common citizenship and common interests by sitting together to hear the president's remarks, rather than divided across the aisle by party," he said in a statement Thursday.

On CNN's "John King, USA," Democratic Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz said she thinks it's a "great idea" and that she's already been thinking of who she wants to sit next to.

And on Twitter, Arizona Sen. John McCain urged others to sign Udall's petition.

The letter Udall released Wednesday to his colleagues said the current seating, which divides Democrats and Republicans, exists because it's always been done that way.

"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."

But some responded with more tepid responses to the idea first announced in a letter by Third Way, a think tank dedicated to moderate political ideas.

Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner said, "Members of Congress choose where to sit at the State of the Union" and would not respond directly to questions about the proposal.

A senior Senate GOP leadership aide said there are no rules that keep Udall from sitting wherever he wants.

"Except for cabinet members, Joint Chiefs, Supreme Court etc., there is no assigned seating," the aide said. "It's first come basis seating. He and his colleagues are welcome to intersperse."

He added, "We're not telling people they have to sit anywhere."

When asked about his reaction to Udall's proposal, a senior GOP congressional aide said, "Quite frankly, we have nine plus percent unemployment, jobless claims spiked this week and we're at war… Not sure most Americans care who senators sit next to at a speech."

- CNN Congressional Producers Ted Barrett and Deirdre Walsh contributed to this report

soundoff (38 Responses)
  1. Derek

    'When asked about his reaction to Udall's proposal, a senior GOP congressional aide said, "Quite frankly, we have nine plus percent unemployment, jobless claims spiked this week and we're at war… Not sure most Americans care who senators sit next to at a speech."'

    It's garbage like this that makes me sick about politics. Here is an opportunity to have an evening that breaks tradition – that puts a new spin on the constant Democrat vs. Republican party-line bickering – and what does this aide do? They do the typical "Washington Shuffle," trying to shovel mud on their opponent and diminish the significance of the opportunity for both sides to put differences aside for a night, rather than seeing who can cheer or jeer louder.

    It might actually be a very telling night if they interspersed; imagine if both sides got confused as to when they were supposed to cheer, since they won't have the typical social cues from their neighbors of when to stand and applaud! 😀

    January 14, 2011 05:08 am at 5:08 am |
  2. 4merRepubCT

    Yes, people do care whether or not our political representatives can be civil long enough to sit next to a member of the opposing party for an hour. Even in grade school, students have to sit with those who are not their "friends". Watching the party-line responses to the State of the Union is like watching little stepford-people marching in lockstep with their leadership. One side applauds, the other does not – one side stands, the other does not; it's predictable and comic.

    Can't the republicans get on board with the notion of civility and unity just once?

    January 14, 2011 05:24 am at 5:24 am |
  3. jules sand-perkins

    This is a show business device, related to "papering the house:" a way of spreading people out. Since political opposition to the speaker will be diluted by its being sprinkled over the speaker's enthusiastic supporters, the loud support will appear to be much closer to unanimous than it really is. Use of this device would be especially beneficial to Democrats now that there are so many more Republicans in Congress than there were last year.
    Don't forget that booing–as in, "you lie,"–is strongly discouraged (respect for the office of the speaker) and unlikely to occur.
    Leave the differences of opinion separately seated for honesty.
    Let us see the true reaction of the polite opposition.

    January 14, 2011 05:54 am at 5:54 am |
  4. Paul

    Dear Senior GOP Aide,

    You are correct, we Americans are more concerned with the economy and our wars than partisan bickering, that is WHY this is such a great idea. This seating would show us that you are more concerned with these issues than the long overheated rhetoric that both sides have used in the past 10-20 years that have made politics such a dirty business, disconnected from the public and more concerned with keeping your jobs (or at least finding another with a lobyying firm) than the business of government.

    January 14, 2011 06:59 am at 6:59 am |
  5. mm

    it would be a great thing for them to do. who knows, maybe it will actually become reality.

    January 14, 2011 07:47 am at 7:47 am |
  6. Jay

    Same theatrical/symbolic garbage over and over again. Who cares if they sit together or not? It might look better but if they can't agree and get anything real done, except pretending that special interests need is "What the American People Want" crap over and over again, does simply sitting together mean anything?

    Illiniois, the state that I live in, just passed a horrible tax increase. If the legislators sat together at the next State of The State, does that mean I should somehow feel warmhearted and happy that these fools that slowly ruin my life are sitting together?

    Politics is so far from the ideal. All we have is special interest rule and theatrical garbage and talking points.

    January 14, 2011 08:15 am at 8:15 am |
  7. mike4ever

    I think it should be done all the time because how as nation can we teach our young people that all people are equal no matter who they vote for. If we can sit together everywhere else why not there. Besides if they do mix it up we might find out that people will vote the way they want and not what their leader tell them too. If sitting together this may give them time to remember who sent them their in the first place.

    How do we think we can show our enemies that want to harm us that we actually do care about the united states and its people if we see the congress sitting apart from each other?

    January 14, 2011 08:18 am at 8:18 am |
  8. Bob the Observer

    I consider myself a conservative, and have usually voted with Republicans, but I cannot understand why they are being so stubborn on this one. I like the idea, and can't figure out why anyone - Democratic or Republican - does not.

    As for the pompous "we're at war" statement, I'm wondering why the "senior GOP congressional aide" thinks that sitting on his fat behind next to a Democrat is any less effective than sitting on it in the middle of Republicans.

    Grow up, little boys. Play nice, or I will make you put up your toys and take a nap.

    January 14, 2011 08:32 am at 8:32 am |
  9. TangledThorns

    The Dems are worried at how small they will looks in comparison to the GOP. Nice try.

    January 14, 2011 08:38 am at 8:38 am |
  10. greg in jax

    To that last quote... wrong wrong wrong, if you cannot show the couintry that you can sit together, then how are we to believe that you can work together.

    January 14, 2011 08:53 am at 8:53 am |
  11. New Age Independant

    Perhaps it would be a good first step toward civility. More likely this is just a political stunt and I have doubts to anything more than that.

    January 14, 2011 09:05 am at 9:05 am |
  12. betterdays

    But will they perform "the wave?"

    January 14, 2011 09:15 am at 9:15 am |
  13. Rob R

    While a nice gesture, it will be really just be a one time gimmick if it happens. Much like the joint response that both parties gave after the State of the Union following 9/11. I guarentee that for the 2012 State of the Union they would be back to their divided seating.

    January 14, 2011 09:17 am at 9:17 am |
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