Bipartisan State of the Union seating gets traction
2010 State of the Union address
January 13th, 2011
09:20 PM ET
11 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. hillbilleter

    I think this would be a wonderful leap forward for our leadership to bring us all back to adult ways of doing business. We've had enough of schoolyard bullies and vitriolic politicians. Let them lead us to peace, harmony and responsibility, instead of down the dangerous road to violence against one another.

    January 13, 2011 09:50 pm at 9:50 pm |
  2. Josh P

    Perhaps the first step to working across the aisle and uniting as Americans is removing the barriers in place that separate us because of party lines. Democrat, Republican, or Independent, there's one word that we should all remember identifies every one of us: American. It's just a shame that a tragedy is the thing that makes it known that we must come together instead of staying apart.

    January 13, 2011 09:50 pm at 9:50 pm |
  3. Ingrid Castellina

    Great Idea! Who knew that the public grade school norm. of changing seating arrangements could actually be beneficial for our congressmen and women too! I applaud Senator Mark Udall for being a Grown Up!

    January 13, 2011 10:21 pm at 10:21 pm |
  4. likeAplan

    The only thing that changes in politics are the faces. With that said, we were sold a bill of goods with the "Contract for America" and the "Change and Hope." However, we must still have confidence that someone in politics will shine and be an example that we can all be proud of, notwithstanding any political affiliation.

    January 13, 2011 10:22 pm at 10:22 pm |
  5. Dianne, IL

    I like the idea. It's a step in the right direction of civility. We can differ in our opinions but treat each other with respect. I would love to get out of the nasty, juvelnile climate of the past few years.

    January 13, 2011 10:34 pm at 10:34 pm |
  6. E R Pannell

    This is such a grade school idea. Sit where you want. There are more important issues requiring attention. Stop wasting time on such petty stuff & for goodness sake "play nice!" (work together.)

    January 13, 2011 10:40 pm at 10:40 pm |
  7. Chaz Surette

    What possible good would come from this? It's a nice gesture more than anything else. A few days later, nothing will change, and we'll all go back to bickering and finger-pointing.

    January 13, 2011 10:47 pm at 10:47 pm |
  8. ATL Guy

    The Republicans don't want to do anything that would give Obama any credit for bringing the country together. If they could sit in a separate building, it would suit the Republicans just fine.

    January 13, 2011 11:00 pm at 11:00 pm |
  9. T'sah from Virginia

    I agree and when they STAND to applaud what they agree too and the other party stays seated, it will still lLQQK unified!!! Yes We Can!!

    January 13, 2011 11:13 pm at 11:13 pm |
  10. Jeffer1965

    If they are only doing this for show, then don't bother. If they really mean it, then I say go for it.

    January 13, 2011 11:22 pm at 11:22 pm |
  11. Florida moderate

    To be honest: That "senior GOP congressional aide" who remarked dismissively that he or she is "Not sure most Americans care who senators sit next to at a speech" provides a fine example of just how out of touch much of Congress remains. Symbolism matters. If you insist on continuing to congregate only with those of like mind, you have learned nothing from the tragedies of the past week. Couldn't you at least *pretend* to care about bipartisanship and cooperation?

    January 13, 2011 11:26 pm at 11:26 pm |
  12. Amarissa

    This is so ridiculous! This suggestion, of course made by a Democrat, it's like admitting that political discourse caused the tragedy in Arizona. Of course, we already know that blaming the right was the biggest and most dangerous lie coming from the lips of the media and liberals. Thank God and the internet, everyone knows the real truth behind this sad experience. As the article said, there are no written rules on where to sit and it should continue that way. Stop giving orders, especially ones with an ulterior motive behind them. Keep it up, we the people are not stupid, we see what's behind each word our politicians say. Polls are already telling us the majority of the country didn't buy your lying blame or your trashing of decent American people!

    January 13, 2011 11:26 pm at 11:26 pm |
  13. Kara

    I think it's an excellent idea.

    January 13, 2011 11:30 pm at 11:30 pm |
  14. James Ahles

    That is a truly clever idea, another move of political theater, now that the Democrats have lost the majority in the house, they wish to hide their minority by rearranging sitting. But when the Republicans were the minority, it was acceptable for the Democrats to display a show of force. Thanks, but no thanks..

    January 13, 2011 11:37 pm at 11:37 pm |
  15. GOP = Greed Over People

    As I stated in an earlier post, you will have to hand-cuff them if you want them sit next to one another.

    The Republicans once again show they have no interest in even symbolic unity, let alone the real thing.

    January 13, 2011 11:46 pm at 11:46 pm |
  16. George of the jungle

    Good idea anything to get these guys to stop argueing and listen to the people

    January 13, 2011 11:49 pm at 11:49 pm |
  17. Ben Mitchell

    This is completely stupid. Who the hell cares where they sit. In fact, I wish we could get a petition started to end this practice all together. Woodrow Wilson was the first to deliver a speech. Before that, the President simply sent a letter to Congress. The televised speech is nothing but propaganda. I say get rid of it.

    January 14, 2011 12:31 am at 12:31 am |
  18. Natahniel

    Leadership should also stop the practice of Members of Congress going to the House Chamber HOURS before the speech in order to secure an aisle seat and steal a handshake and autograph with the President. We elect representatives and not paparazzi. It is undignified and should be stopped. And besides, it is ALWAYS the same faces clambering for their one chance to get on TV... Eliot Engel (D-NY), I am talking to you. Stop this shameless behavior!!!! EVERYONE knows you do this. Make an appointment to see the President on YOUR time, not the nation's time!

    January 14, 2011 01:11 am at 1:11 am |
  19. SurRy

    I'm sure the Republicans will stay classy as usual.

    January 14, 2011 01:37 am at 1:37 am |
  20. question

    why didn't you disclose names of the Republicans who rejected the idea? You are a News Organization right? Why the cowardice....

    January 14, 2011 02:02 am at 2:02 am |
  21. blahb31

    Sarah Palin says that partisanship has always been heated, which implies that nothing should be different than the present. Why not show Ms. Palin that just because something is a custom, that doesn't mean it shouldn't change. Let's change this seating custom.

    January 14, 2011 02:19 am at 2:19 am |
  22. J.V.Hodgson

    The idea that all members can sit where they want ignores the invitation, and avoids saying yes or no directly and that's a shame.
    If it is true why has it for years been clearly divided along party lines!?
    This is another prime example of what irrittates voters.
    Republicans won't go along with this as they want to show clearly numbers wise they are in the majority at this event.
    If I'm right , then as Palin would say Man up and admit your real reasons, both sides pleaseor just vote yeah or nay!!

    January 14, 2011 02:39 am at 2:39 am |
  23. gert

    In light of a new tone of civility, I do care where people sit, and I think it is a thoughtful gesture for the leaders of our country to sit together, rather than on opposing sides.

    January 14, 2011 03:05 am at 3:05 am |
  24. Tony

    I am sure if there is opposition to it, it will come from Republicans. They are the party of Nancy Reagans slogan. "just say no". I don't think she had that in mind for everything boys. Kudos to McCain if he actually has endorsed it already. He didn't seem too happy to have the Prez in Tucson yesterday.

    January 14, 2011 03:22 am at 3:22 am |
  25. Anonymous

    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."

    sooooo true. That said. This fact, in no way, diminishes the value of the idea as a way of creating an image of a government united as apposed to divided. Some people still watch these things on TV and look at the pictures in history books. The idea that some senators want to show unity this year after what happened in AZ is not a wast of government time, part of what the government is supposed to do is semiotic, meaning that it isn't about running the country but about sending messages to the country and the world at large. This message isn't a waste, it just isn't worth pursuing if it will engender a fight.

    January 14, 2011 04:03 am at 4:03 am |
1 2