Dozens of lawmakers are getting a second dose of high school as they
venture across the aisle and ask colleagues to sit with them for
President Obama’s State of the Union address next week.
In a petition circulated to members earlier this month, Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) called on his colleagues to sit with a lawmaker of the opposing party as a way to heal Congress’s increasingly divisive rhetoric, debates that in the public arena have at times erupted into hateful rhetoric and even violence.
“It’s a little like prom,” joked one Democrat, who asked not to be identified. “You just hope they don’t turn you down.”
As of this weekend, nearly 60 lawmakers had pledged to sit with a member of the opposite party, according to Udall’s office. In a letter sent to Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidFranken emerges as liberal force in hearings GOP eyes new push to break up California court The DC bubble is strangling the DNC MORE (D-Nev.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), House Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerLast Congress far from ‘do-nothing’ Top aide: Obama worried about impeachment for Syria actions An anti-government ideologue like Mulvaney shouldn't run OMB MORE (R-Ohio), and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the lawmakers said that the bipartisan seating arrangement would remind members of their common commitment to serve the American people.
“Beyond custom, there is no rule or reason that on this night we should emphasize divided government, separated by party, instead of being seen as united as a country,” the letter reads. “Perhaps, by sitting with each other for one night, we will begin to rekindle that common spark that brought us here from 50 states and widely diverging backgrounds to serve the public good.”
Nearly two dozen lawmakers have already announced who they plan to sit with during the address next Tuesday, according to an analysis done by The Hill, with some others saying they will wait until the day of the speech to track down a member of the opposite party.
House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) plans to sit next to House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) after endorsing the idea last week. Sen. Chuck SchumerCharles SchumerDemocrats and the boycott of Trump's inauguration The Hill's 12:30 Report Why Democrats fear a successful inaugural address from Trump MORE (D-N.Y.) is planning to sit with Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). And Sen. Jeanne Shaheen Jeanne ShaheenTrump poised to reinstate 'global gag rule' on Roe v. Wade anniversary: report Trump country Dem takes risk by skipping swearing-in 5 billion reasons Rex Tillerson is wrong MORE (D-N.H.) plans to sit with Sen. Johnny IsaksonJohnny IsaksonTrump, Democrats can bridge divide to make college more affordable Trump picks Obama nominee for VA secretary Five races to watch in 2017 MORE (R-Ga.).
Many of the seating buddies seem to find their match through work that they do on committees together or by being part of the same state delegation, such as Reps. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.), Joe Heck (R-Nev.) and Dean HellerDean HellerMnuchin weathers stormy confirmation hearing Live coverage: Senators grill Trump's Treasury pick Five things to watch for in Mnuchin hearing MORE (R-Nev.).
On Wednesday, after Republicans voted to repeal the healthcare measure that Democrats passed last year, Berkley asked Heck, who is a freshman, if he wanted to sit with her and Heller for the address. Berkley said she’d be happy to sit with them on the “Republican” side of the House, but she was concerned about making sure the seat was reserved because it’s first-come, first-serve, said Heck’s spokesman, Darren Littell.
“They both looked at [Heck] and said, ‘Well, someone’s going to have to get down there 2 hours early to get the seats,’” said Littell.
“And Joe [Heck] looked back at them and said, ‘That means me, doesn’t it?’”
In what some are calling a right-of-passage, several freshman lawmakers seem to be getting tasked with reserving the seats. Of course, that’s up for grabs in the case of freshman Rep. John Carney (D-Del.) who is planning to sit next to freshman Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.). Carney and Meehan did an event at a Boeing facility last year when they were congressmen-elect and Meehan’s Pennsylvania district borders Carney’s in Delaware, so they expect to be working together in the future, according to Carney’s spokesman.
Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) approached Rep. Sue Myrick (R-N.C.), one
of the first Republican members to sign onto the letter, on the House
floor on Tuesday, thinking that because of their work together on the
House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Cancer Caucus, they would
make an excellent seating pair. Myrick agreed.
The night may be somewhat uncomfortable as the president’s party typically stands and applauds his words more often than the opposing party, which has been known to remain seated. During some joint sessions of Congress, some in the opposing party have booed or shouted at the president, as Rep. Joe WilsonJoe WilsonRepublicans pan Kerry's Israel speech GOP rep wants Trump to loosen rules for US troops fighting Taliban Trump: Cancel Boeing's contract for Air Force One MORE (R-S.C.) did during President Barack Obama’s speech on healthcare in 2009.
But levity may be had, at least in one section of the House. Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) is planning to sit with her fellow members of the Congressional Women’s Softball Team, such as Republican Reps. Shelley Moore-Capito (W.V.), Jean Schmidt (Ohio) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.).
Other members who have announced plans to sit together are as follows:
Sen. Susan CollinsSusan CollinsGOP rep faces testy crowd at constituent meeting over ObamaCare DeVos vows to be advocate for 'great' public schools GOP senators introducing ObamaCare replacement Monday MORE (R-Maine) plans to sit with Sens. Maria CantwellMaria CantwellIn Energy hearing, Rick Perry capitulated to Big Gov on all fronts What we learned from Rick Perry's confirmation hearing Perry regrets saying he would abolish Energy Department MORE (D-Wash.) and Mark PryorMark PryorCotton pitches anti-Democrat message to SC delegation Ex-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm Top Democrats are no advocates for DC statehood MORE (D-Ark.).
Sen. Mary LandrieuMary LandrieuFive unanswered questions after Trump's upset victory Pavlich: O’Keefe a true journalist Trump’s implosion could cost GOP in Louisiana Senate race MORE (D-La.) plans to sit with Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine).
Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandWomen's marches draw huge crowds as Trump takes office Lawmakers join women's marches in DC and nationwide Women's march takes over DC MORE (D-N.Y) plans to sit with Sen. John ThuneJohn ThuneSenate confirms first nominees of Trump era Senate gears up for battle over Trump's CIA pick GOP, Dems hear different things from Trump MORE (R-S.D.).
Sen. Kay HaganKay Hagan Former Sen. Kay Hagan in ICU after being rushed to hospital GOP senator floats retiring over gridlock 2016’s battle for the Senate: A shifting map MORE (D-N.C.) plans to sit with Rep. Renee Elmers (R-N.C.).
Sen. Bob CaseyBob CaseyLive coverage: Senators grill Trump's Treasury pick Live coverage: Tom Price's confirmation hearing Senate Democrats brace for Trump era MORE (D-Pa.) is sitting next to Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.).
Rep. Phil GingreyPhil GingreyBeating the drum on healthcare Former GOP chairman joins K Street Former Rep. Gingrey lands on K Street MORE (R-Ga.) plans to sit with Rep. Gene GreenGene GreenLawmakers worry ObamaCare fight could suck air from other priorities Midwest Dems feel left out in cold Overnight Healthcare: Hospitals plot attack against ObamaCare repeal MORE (D-Texas).
Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.) plans to sit with Rep. Steve WomackSteve WomackTrump tweets about flag burning, setting off a battle Students across the country spend their 'summer recess' getting involved in politics After the balloons have fallen MORE (R-Ark.).
Del. Madeleine BordalloMadeleine BordalloDems urge treaty ratification after South China Sea ruling Dems push for allowing base closures Clinton wins Guam caucus MORE (D-Guam) plans to sit next to Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.).
Rep. Larry Kissell (D-N.C.) plans to sit next to Reps. Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.) and Howard Coble (R-N.C.). Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.) plans to sit on the other side of Coble.
Rep. Charles Bass (R-N.H.) plans to sit next to Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.).
Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.) plans to sit with Rep. Robert AderholtRobert AderholtPublic needs to know more about International Agency for Research on Cancer Chaffetz investigating taxpayers funding for flawed cancer agency GOP struggles to find women to lead House committees MORE (R-Ala.).
Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.) plans to sit with Rep. Robert Dold (R-Ill.).
Rep. Sanford Bishop’s (D-Ga.) office said he doesn’t know who he’ll sit next to, but he does support the bipartisan move.
Sen. John McCainJohn McCainSchumer, Cardin to introduce legislation on Russia sanctions Graham says he will vote for Tillerson McCain will vote for Tillerson MORE’s (R-Ariz.) office said that he has not announced who he will sit next to yet.
Daniel Strauss contributed to this report
This story was updated at 3 p.m.